The U.S. men's national team beat Paraguay 1-0 on Tuesday, improving to 1-0-2 since failing to qualify for the World Cup. In that time, the team has been guided by interim manager Dave Sarachan, an assistant to Bruce Arena who is overseeing an awkward transition time before he is presumably replaced by a new manager at some point this summer.
But Sarachan isn't just going through the motions and operating without a purpose. He's taken a pragmatic and conservative approach to three friendlies, and with a multitude of uncapped and young players to potentially play on Tuesday, he opted to leave two of his six substitutions unused and made two others in the dying minutes of the match. He's taken heat for the approach in some corners, with many seeing these lame-duck matches as chances to see what the U.S. has in untested, promising players like Shaq Moore, Tim Weah, Antonee Robinson, Andrija Novakovich and beyond. Is Sarachan managing to win to improve his odds at getting the job on a permanent basis? What's the end game behind his approach?
We discuss Sarachan's methods and motivations in this week's Planet Fútbol Podcast. You can listen to the full discussion on this week's podcast in the console below, with the complete USMNT chatter beginning at the 2:05 mark. You can subscribe to and download the podcast at iTunes here.
GRANT WAHL: In terms of Dave Sarachan and the lineup he put out there, I guess a question I have for you is, what do you think Dave Sarachan is coaching for here? Is he coaching to try and get results and get a job in the pro game? Does he think he has a chance to get the U.S. job? Why is he being a little conservative with this stuff?
BRIAN STRAUS: I don't know if he thinks he has a chance. He wants it. I mean, I know that. I don't know what he behind closed doors believes his chances are. We're still sort of waiting on this [U.S. national team] GM thing to kind of be fleshed out.
I talked to a couple of people in North Carolina who are still trying to figure out what the hell it is. And you've written on this, that the definition and the parameters and the scope of the job may be less than some big names and big guns might be interested in.
GW: Nobody wants it!
BS: That still seems to be the case, so that's still being talked about behind the scenes. Here's my optimist's view on it. What Dave is trying to do is introduce a whole new generation of players, a whole bunch of young guys into what the national team is about. And part of what the national team is about, no matter who the coach is, is a meritocracy where the guys who earn it play. The guys who do well stay in the game. We play to win the game, we create a culture where things are–yes it's a weird time, yes there's nothing to be lost by going guns blazing and putting in all the really, really young and exciting kids, Weah and Andrew Carleton and Josh Sargent, and just throw them out there and see what happens. But that's not how a national team tends to work, right? That's not what happens when the games matter, so I get it in a way.
When the games matter, you don't want that to be the first time you've been in this kind of an environment, when all the work and training and the attention to detail and the attention to building some kind of tactical foundation, some kind of repetition and predictability, which is so important in a national team–you don't want to just show up at a camp and throw s*** at a wall. That's what happened for five years and look where it got us. So he's trying to establish a framework. This is how national teams work. So that's my guess. He wants to get the guys used to what an environment in a national team camp is like in terms of who plays, who doesn't, who earns time, playing to a team's strengths, finding a formation and some partnerships and some patterns that work. Whether he's the coach going forward or it's someone else, they've at least had that experience. That's my shot in the dark about what he's doing. It would've been fun to see more of Tim Weah, of course, and some of the other guys, but I think I get what he's getting at, and yeah, there was some good stuff. In the middle and defensive thirds of the field, they were quite good.
There were some pieces there to build on going forward, and now that they've played the same formation in all three games, there's starting to be a little bit of understanding and a little bit of comfort from some of these guys, Tyler Adams, of course, being the best example. So it's something to build on. Something small, but something to build on.
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GW: I'll be looking forward to an extent to these friendlies in June, probably getting Christian Pulisic back with the team. It'll be even tougher seeing the excitement growing for the World Cup and seeing a U.S. team playing that won't be going to Russia, but that's all part of the deal right now.
I would've liked to have seen Tim Weah play more than five minutes. Here's a guy who is promising and clearly wants to play for the United States and he has options elsewhere, so that's a good sign. And my sense is that Dave Sarachan runs a pretty good training session in the day-to-day during this camp, which is actually quite long–it probably was good for these guys to get used to working together and playing more with each other.