A new era for the U.S. Soccer Federation–symbolized by its absence from this summer's World Cup, the departure of long-time president Sunil Gulati and the February election of Carlos Cordeiro–may be shaped as much, or more, by the people filling a couple of new positions further down the governing body’s organizational chart.
There’s never been a national team general manager at U.S. Soccer. For the most part, power resided with the president and the head coaches. But it’s a position found elsewhere in the world whose potential value became clear when the Americans were eliminated from the World Cup in October and then again last month, when 18-year-old Monterrey midfielder Jonathan Gonzalez switched his allegiance from his native USA to Mexico.
Sometimes federation presidents, who aren’t necessarily soccer experts, hire (or extend) the wrong coaches. And sometimes coaches, who are charged with preparing and leading a given team through a particular competition, aren’t equipped or incentivized to see around corners and build for the long term.
So in December, the U.S. Soccer board authorized the creation of GM jobs for both the men’s and women’s senior national teams. And on Wednesday, USSF CEO Dan Flynn and director of sporting development Ryan Mooney offered on update on the position, its parameters and purview and the hiring process.
Flynn confirmed that since the U.S. men are playing without a permanent head coach—interim manager Dave Sarachan will take the squad to its March 27 friendly against Paraguay in North Carolina—and as the women prepare to defend their Women’s World Cup title under Jill Ellis, “the first hire most likely will be the GM for the men’s national team.”
Flynn wasn’t able to provide a specific timeline, but said U.S. Soccer “has already started the process on both sides. … We’re actively involved in the process right now.”
That process is being led by a search committee comprising Flynn, Mooney, Atlanta United technical director and USSF board member Carlos Bocanegra, former Women’s Sports Foundation president and USSF board member Angela Hucles (both sit on the USSF’s Athletes Council), USSF chief commercial officer Jay Berhalter, and USSF director of coaching education Nico Romeijn. Cordeiro also will have input, and the full board will give the final thumbs up or thumbs down on the committee's choice.
The GMs will focus on the senior national teams and report to the CEO rather than the president, Flynn said. They’ll be responsible for the hiring and firing of senior national team coaches (the board also will approve those appointments) and their assistants and will have “overall responsibility for the technical side of the senior team.” That includes “management of the day-to-day environment” and “monitoring the player pool and the integration of new players,” Flynn added.
It’s a long-term appointment, one that’s meant to endure ups and downs on the scoreboard and outlast a coach or two.
“They can be more of a strategist, more of a thinker—a leader and a manager of a framework and a system,” Mooney said.
There will be “connectivity” between the GM and those involved with youth development and the youth national teams, Mooney added, but the federation felt there was “significant distance” between the grassroots and the senior national team. The GMs will be part of a larger technical structure focusing on those senior teams—“a brain trust,” Flynn called it—and won't be directing all of U.S. Soccer’s on-field initiatives.
“In an indirect way, those general managers will have input on what we’re doing on the player development side,” Flynn said.
Regarding the pool of candidates, Flynn didn’t offer names but said, “We think there’s fertile territory in MLS, but we’re looking beyond that level as well in other parts of the world. The most important thing is to get the best candidate. I will say one thing: I think internally we think it’s pretty darn important that the general managers understand our leagues–plural–in our country and how they operate, and what the player development model is on the domestic side.”
Seattle Sounders GM and president of soccer Garth Lagerwey already has been identified as a potential candidate, SI’s Grant Wahl reported following Cordeiro’s election. Flynn said the federation has reached out to people of interest, and that some have contacted U.S. Soccer on their own. But SI.com understands that no formal interviews have taken place.
On the men’s side, Flynn said that once the GM is in place, “we’d like to move within a reasonable timeframe to get our national team coach on board.”