KENYA BROWN - Wednesday, April 6, 2011
After a long hiatus, I thought it was good time for me to get off my rear end and comment on the happenings in US soccer. Much has happened since I last posted; some of it good and some, well, it is best not to talk about it.
But one issue that has caught my attention over the past month has been the discussion of the search for a technical director for the US national team. After reading countless articles and blogs there was finally confirmation from US Soccer's Chief Executive Dan Flynn that the USSF has made contact with former Chile coach Marcelo Bielsa about taking the job at all levels.
The USSF also talked with other candidates, but there is no timetable as to when someone will be hired for the position.
If Sunil Gulati and the rest of the gang in Chicago are considering hiring a technical director, then they would be taking the right step in courting the former Argentina coach who is well known for his methodical manner when it comes to tactics and training. A man with the expertise of Bielsa would be much a great addition to improving the US soccer program.
However, nothing is concrete at the moment and while there are many positives to having the Olympic gold medal winning coach there could also be some drawbacks. One of those drawbacks is the relationship between Bielsa and current national team coach Bob Bradley.
How would Bradley feel knowing that there is someone lurking in the shadows that could replace him as soon as results did not go the way of the US? It was no secret that Gulati was looking at other options after the United States' second round exit from the 2010 World Cup. When nothing materialized there was no other choice but to go with the man still in job.
While the USSF is yet to make a decision as to who will fill the technical director position, I have come up with my own shortlist of candidates that they should be considering along with Bielsa and the other unnamed contenders they have talked with. Perhaps these names are not on the list, but they should be - given strong consideration when it comes time to eventually naming someone for the job.
The Dutch legend is, without a doubt, the most available out of the group of contenders and, along with Bielsa, provides a wealth of knowledge in the game as being a coach for two of the most storied teams in Europe, Ajax and Barcelona. A disciple of the Total Football philosophy, which was created by former Dutch coach Rinus Michels, the former European Player of the Year could invoke this philosophy into the US soccer program which still is lacking in that department.
One of the things that is always said about American soccer players is that they possess a great deal of athleticism, but lack the technical and tactical aspects of the game in their repertoire. By bringing in the Catalonia national team coach, the Dutch system of training players and his tactical approach to the game could pay off in the long-term for the US national at all age levels.
The one thing that separates the former Barcelona coach from Bielsa is that he has played in the United States during the days of the North American Soccer League. Although it was only a two-year stint, this did expose Cryuff to the strengths and weaknesses of the American soccer player.
Thus, he would have some idea as to what would be needed to enhance the quality of the teams on the field when they participate in international tournaments.
Another thing that could entice the nine time Eredivisie champion to sign on with the US is that he has never coached in any capacity at the World Cup. He came close to coaching the Dutch team in 1994, but negotiations between the KNVB and him fell through. The chance to help guide a team at the world's biggest sporting event would be too good to pass up.
The downside to bringing Cryuff into the USSF would be the relationship between him, coaches and the front office. The former honorary president of Barcelona has not had a smooth career after retiring as a player. A falling out with a former chairman at Barcelona and a recent episode at Ajax which led to the resignation of the board of directors, one could fathom what might happen were he placed at technical director of the US national team.
Despite this one problem, it would be a good idea to at least consider Cryuff for the job.
If the USSF had no problem with hiring former US captain Claudio Reyna to handle the reins as technical director for the youth teams, then why not appoint another former US national team member?
Out of all of the former US national team members who are working in the administrative side of the game, the Dutch-born midfielder has been steadily gaining experience since his appointment as technical director at his first team, VVV Venlo, in 2005. This has led to further appointments at NAC Breda in 2006 and currently with fourth place Eredivisie team AZ Alkmaar.
The appointment of the former Willem II player could be one of the best signings that the USSF makes as Stewart is a product of the Dutch system. Add in his many years of representing the United States and knowing the mentality of the American player, he could possibly combine the two into developing a system that could make the US national team more competitive than ever.
While appointing the 2004 MLS champion would be a good move the big question is whether Stewart is interested in making a move back to the United States at this point. Only recently taking up the post at AZ and having a young family he may want to remain in Europe at this time, but his name should be one that is on the shortlist in Gulati's office.
Out of the game for a few months after being fired by Turkish team Galatassaray, Rijkaard's name always surfaces when there is an open position with a top European team. Perhaps the USSF can find someway of persuading him to come across the pond to take on a new challenge.
Like Cryuff, the former AC Milan midfielder, was brought up on the same Total Football philosophy. However, Rijkaard has branched out and developed his own methods, an attacking style which exploits the creativity of players.
One of the biggest advantages the former UEFA Coach of the Year would have going into this position is that he is an outsider. With no experience playing in the US leagues and no experience coaching American players, he could break down the system already in place and construct an entirely new one that can incorporate his philosophy.
If the right staff is built around him, there is also a possibility that scouting can be improved so that potential players for the US national team do not fall through the cracks of the system and wind up not playing in the team or representing another country.
However, this one advantage that he has could also be a disadvantage as he lacks experience working in the American system. One of the most important aspects that many critics have said about finding staff for the USSF is that they should know what the American player is all about. They should have an understanding of the American system.
Rijkaard also has no experience working with someone like Gulati who may not be privy to giving the former European champion the control he may want. This is the one sticking point that prevented former German coach Jurgen Klinsmann from signing a contract on two occasions.
There is also the possibility that Rijkaard may join another European team as the leagues are in the final third of the season. If there is a coaching position open at one of the big clubs, the former Dutch national coach may be tempted by that more than the technical director's role.
This shortlist is heavily Dutch, but outside of the favorite, Bielsa, these three would be most suitable for the job.
One thing Gulati should not be doing is finding someone to fill this position for the short-term. US Soccer needs a technical director who will stay in this position for the long-term.
US Soccer needs someone who will have a strategy for pushing the national program up to the next level. The national team is already a dominant force in the CONCACAF region. What is needed is a strategy that can have the team consistently contending for the World Cup.
Qualifying for the World Cup is not enough for US fans as it is almost a near given that the team will qualify. US fans are seeking better results.
Let's just hope that Gulati and the USSF do not botch this one up.