The metaphorical laundry list of potential US Soccer coaches shrunk over the weekend as Zinedine Zidane ‘politely declined’ the role.
On Saturday, news came out that the former Real Madrid manager and World Cup winner with France turned down the United States. The Team reported that Zidane turned down the role in an effort to get the France head coaching spot. However, the outlet added that France is preparing to extend current manager Didier Deschamps, who took France to the 2022 World Cup Final after winning the tournament in 2018.
Regardless of the denial, it is a statement for US Soccer to approach Zidane for the job. In the past, head coaches of the USMNT have been those involved with soccer in the United States. The exceptions are Jürgen Klinsmann and Bora Milutinović, who coached the United States at the 2014 and 1990 World Cups, respectively.
Bob Bradley coaches in MLS and then the US U-23 team. Bruce Arena has never coached outside the US, but still has more matches coached than any other person in USMNT history. Recently, Gregg Berhalter spent five seasons with the Columbus Crew before taking over the USMNT in 2018.
However, the latter’s absence from the USMNT due to an ongoing investigation into a domestic violence incident from 31 years ago made any potential new hires more likely. Moreover, the link with Zidane shows a true desire from US Soccer to hire coaches with acclaim and expertise.
Zidane might be off that list, but there are still notable names circling around the USMNT.
US Soccer should aim for these coaches
Like Zidane, some of these potential hires are lofty. It is not as lofty as a small island nation placing an inquiry to hire Pep Guardiola or Carlo Ancelotti. Still, the United States does not necessarily have the pull to get anybody it wants instantly.
However, the following coaches could be swayed by the rising talent in the United States and the fact that the 2026 World Cup is in the United States.
If US Soccer eyes up coaches that follow that American trend, Jim Curtin is the favorite to take over. The Philadelphia Union manager coached the side since 2014. He turned a middling side with one playoff appearance into one of the stronger sides in Major League Soccer. Under Curtin’s tenure, Union qualified for the playoffs in six out of the last seven seasons. In 2021, the side narrowly missed out on its first MLS Cup appearance. Then, this past season, Union did reach the MLS Cup Final for the first time, losing a stunner against LAFC on the road.
Cup success is one of Curtin’s main draws to the USMNT post. In his first two seasons, albeit one of those was abbreviated as he took over midseason, Philadelphia reached the US Open Cup Final. It lost both, one in extra time and the other in penalties. Philadelphia reached another US Open Cup Final in 2018, once again losing. With somewhat regular tournament success, and a knowledge of US Soccer as it stands, Curtin is a popular pick, if it will not be one of the top managers from Europe or Gregg Berhalter.
If you ask USMNT supporters who they think should take over, the aggregate response may be Marsch. The current Leeds United boss is an American who both played and coached in Major League Soccer. Yet, his managerial style and approach to the game is far more European. Credit that to his time from him RB Salzburg, RB Leipzig and now Leeds United. He has seen mixed results at clubs. He thrived at Salzburg but flopped at Leipzig. Now, he has Leeds in the bottom half of the Premier League table, fighting to keep its spot alive.
Marsch is familiar with many of the USMNT players. Yes, he currently coaches Brenden Aaronson and Tyler Adams. But, his time in MLS allows for some familiarity with coaches and players in that league. He also coached in three different countries in Europe, which provides a glimpse into talent from that area.
Jesse Marsch took over at Leeds when the club sacked Marcelo Bielsa, an icon for The Whites. Bielsa transformed Leeds with his pressing and wild play style, launching the club back into the Premier League for the first time in decades. Bielsa is more than a club coach switching around sides. He has international experience, including time at World Cups, too.
The main instance of that came with Argentina from 1998 to 2004. Argentina reached the knockout stage at the 2002 World Cup and was runner-up of the Copa America in 2004. He did have one triumph though, winning gold at the 2004 Olympics. Bielsa would certainly be a change for the USMNT. He is a character, and a loved one by fans.
The former Chelsea, PSG, Borussia Dortmund and Mainz manager most recently overlooked Christian Pulisic. On surface level, the two had rapport. And Pulisic, one of the side’s most important players, could adapt easily to a Tuchel system. Of course, the two had issues. It may have not been anything personal, even if Pulisic’s father voiced concerns, but Pulisic had limited playing time under the German.
Still, Tuchel is a gifted coach. He led PSG to the Champions League Final for the first time in 2020. Then, a year later, he won the competition as the manager of Chelsea. His career achievements include a pair of Ligue 1 titles, a DFB-Pokal, the FIFA Club World Cup and a number of ‘Coach of the Year’ accolades in 2021.
His system showed success in cup competitions. The patented back three Tuchel uses allows for easy transition from a hefty defense into a rapid offense. Reece James thrived and became a premier full back. Same goes for Ben Chilwell, who dealt with a major knee injury, also thrived under Tuchel. Sergiño Dest, one of the bright young prospects in the USMNT camp, could develop rapidly under Tuchel. Plus, Dest already has a knack for offensive prowess.
Tuchel still has no experience in the international game, but he posed an interesting possibility.
Not long ago, Mauricio Pochettino was the hottest commodity among coaches. He led Tottenham Hotspur into its most successful moments of the most recent decades. A Premier League battle came up short against Leicester City. Several years later, Tottenham played in its first UEFA Champions League Final. Dramatic second legs against Manchester City and Ajax perhaps propelled the side to more glory than it deserved.
He saw PSG as the logical step, a team ripe for Champions League success. Pochettino arrived in the winter of 2021, replacing the outgoing Thomas Tuchel. Despite defeating Barcelona and Bayern Munich in the knockout stages, PSG fell to Manchester City, losing in both legs of that semifinal tie. The Argentine manager then had all the expectation in the world for his second season, as the club acquired Lionel Messi. However, it was a relative disaster for the Parisians. PSG won the league, but that was its only trophy. It was the first time since the 2012/13 campaign that PSG only won one trophy. PSG swapped managerswith Christophe Galtier coming in.
Pochettino remains unemployed, but a familiar name in the potential market for jobs across Europe. The United States was one of those jobs, albeit it is not the familiarity of club management in Europe. Gregg Berhalter remains the coach with a new US Soccer deal, but Pochettino brings an air of desire and commitment. He showed immense growth at PSG and Southampton, bringing those clubs to new heights. He could have done the same with the United States.
Another manager out of a job following the 2022 World Cup, Luis Enrique was acclaimed as a top manager. He had Spain humming along, playing beautiful soccer. That was, at least, after the opening game of the tournament. The next three games at the World Cup, a draw, loss and elimination on penalties, showed the flaws in Enrique’s system. If a team can win possession off Enrique’s team, they are vulnerable.
Still, Enrique has the experience and the knowledge to develop a young American team. Berhalter attempted to dominate in possession. In fact, the United States had a huge share of possession in three of its four World Cup games. The only one it did not was against Iran, a game the side clung to a 1-0 lead. Even then, the USMNT had 49% possession.
Therefore, Enrique could easily sift into the possession-based system Berhalter employed. However, he would incorporate the quick passing and clinical finishing the United States lacked at times against the Netherlands. Yet, like Martinez, Enrique wants to return to club play. He does not bring the tiki-taka and passing style to Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.
If US Soccer wants to stick with coaches from MLS and the American scene, then Seattle Sounders manager Brian Schmetzer could be a strong place to look. The issue is that Schmetzer is ingrained with Seattle soccer. Born in Seattle, Schmetzer played for the Sounders in the NASL and American Professional Soccer League. His coaching history dates back to indoor soccer in Seattle and Tacoma when he played in the 1980s. He has been on the Seattle Sounders coaching staff since 2002, serving as head coach from 2002 to 2008. He regained the role in 2016, and still holds it today.
Schmetzer won a pair of MLS Cups, and lost in two more Finals since taking over in 2016. Additionally, he did something no MLS coach has done, win the CONCACAF Champions League. As a result, Schmetzer and the Sounders are going to the FIFA Club World Cup to potentially play Real Madrid and Flamengo. Schmetzer is one of the greatest MLS coaches of all time, and could fit the mold for US Soccer.