From Marsh to Klopp to MLS candidates
When the United States Men’s National Team takes to the field next week against Serbia, with the team announcing Wednesday noon EST, it will officially open the 2026 World Cup tournament. Call it a soft launch.
The list will not look like the version that advanced from the World Cup group stage less than two months ago. It probably won’t look like the team that reunited in March for the CONCACAF Nations League – or ever again. As usual, this January gathering will be a glorification gathering to identify talent.
In the past, though, the redeeming value of this camp was for the coach to get a closer look at some of the players in the pool he wouldn’t get to see during the FIFA international breaks. Take January 2020, for example. Matt TurnerAnd Brendan Aronson And Jesus Ferreira They were all called up without having made their international debut. The trio all made the World Cup squad and appeared, to varying degrees, for Qatar.
This time, it’s different. With interim head coach, Anthony Hudson, at the wheel following the expiration of Greg Berhalter’s contract on December 31, two friendlies in Southern California – Serbia (January 25), Columbia (January 28) – will yield very few results. program direction. It’s a suspension pattern that won’t end until a permanent head coach is hired.
Until that happens, not much else about the team carries a lot of relative intrigue. It is difficult even to underestimate the importance of this employment. With the United States co-hosting the 2026 World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico and clearly expected to field the most talented American team ever, this is a pivotal decision mandated by the U.S. Soccer Federation.
So, when is this new employee coming in? This depends on several factors, starting with the calendar.
In a perfect world, the permanent trainer would have been in place on January 1, but there’s an important balance to navigate here. This camp doesn’t really matter – not in the broader picture. So is the CONCACAF Nations League in March, when the United States plays Grenada and El Salvador. It’s easy to argue that it’s not mandatory for a manager to be in place ahead of this summer’s Gold Cup, but it seems like a good target to shoot for.
It comes after the European club season ended in May, allowing for a natural transition for a coach sitting in the team of a club there. This is important because the little information available on the status of the training search suggests that the federation has ambitious plans.
Two weeks ago, ESPN’s Julien Laurens reported that French legend Zinedine Zidane, who coached Real Madrid to three Champions League titles and won the World Cup as a player with France in 1998, had been approached by his agent regarding the opening. While Zidane wasn’t interested, it does show the Soviet Union coach’s caliber, at the very least, wants to continue. Of course, that doesn’t mean anyone this world-class is going to end up with the job.
While it’s fun tossing out names and discussing each possibility, it’s not necessarily a useful exercise. There are far too many potential eligible candidates to make a comprehensive list. This is a better conversation in profile, so let’s look at it in groups.
Why did Zinedine Zidane reject the approach of the American Military Leadership Union?
Julian Laurens and Don Hutchison discuss Zinedine Zidane’s decision to turn down the opportunity to manage the USMNT.
International Superstars: The most famous and accomplished coaches
At almost any other point in history, there would not be much reason to believe that someone of this class would have any interest in coaching the United States. There is reason to believe that has changed. Coaching the United States at the 2026 World Cup is a unique opportunity, and few people have had the chance to coach a host nation at the tournament. The opportunity to do this with an ambitious group should have wide appeal.
How far though? This is part of what the federation is now trying to find out. While Zidane wasn’t interested, that didn’t mean someone else wouldn’t be.
Again, listing names can set unrealistic expectations, but the coaches who fit those criteria are Jurgen Klopp of Liverpool, Pep Guardiola of Manchester City, or Joachim Loew, who led Germany to the 2014 world title. And while Law is still out of work Both Klopp and Guardiola have stated that they do not envisage leaving their club anytime soon.
If anyone like that was interested, it would be hard for USSF not to go in that direction. When the United States was dismantled by the Netherlands in the Round of 16, it didn’t seem like the talent gap was the main reason for that defeat. It was the tactics used by Louis van Gaal – one of the most accomplished coaches of all time – that made all the difference.
American coach in MLS or elsewhere
Convincing an American soccer coach to coach the national team at a World Cup on home soil should be an easy sell. It is the opportunity of a lifetime. But are any American coaches capable of maximizing a team’s talent and outperforming their peers on the biggest stage in international soccer? There is no clear answer.
Moroccan national team coach Walid Regragui is a perfect case study in how no one knows anything. Before taking the job of the Atlas Lions just three months before the World Cup, he had only trained indoors and in Qatar. The job that led Morocco to the semi-finals (the first team from Africa to reach that stage) is the kind of success the United States wants to repeat.
During Morocco’s run, Regargui has targeted those who believe that only European coaches have what it takes to succeed at the sport’s highest levels. “Explain this to me. Explain this miracle,” Regragui said, defending the African and Arab coaches. “Experience? It doesn’t matter. It’s skills. It doesn’t matter your background, whether religiously or culturally or where you’re from. Skills are the only measure.”
The same concept applies to Americans and here it is easy to narrow down the pool of candidates. Few potential candidates:
Jesse Marsh: Currently at Leeds United in the Premier League, he has also coached RB Leipzig in Germany and FC Salzburg in Austria, winning silverware with the latter. It would be a complete shock if Marsh’s career ended without coaching the national team.
For him, it’s about timing. Leeds are in the middle of their season, but Marsh finds himself in a hot seat as the club race away from relegation. There is also the matter of style. Is high pressing and tempo the most effective way to play in international tournaments?
Jim Curtin: Curtin’s Philadelphia Union team is coming up with one of the best seasons in Major League Soccer history. They’ve done it without a big budget, playing a style that seems to translate well to the national team.
Steve Cherundolo: LAFC just won the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup double. Cherundolo spent his entire footballing career in Germany, appearing in three World Cups over the course of a 13-year international career. But prior to his last year with LAFC he was his only head coach at the youth level in Germany and a year with the Las Vegas Lights, which served as the development team for LAFC.
Brian Schmitzer: The Seattle Sounders are the epitome of continued success in the MLS, and Schmetzer is the face of that. He reached the MLS Cup four times – winning twice – in seven years and led Seattle to the CONCACAF Champions League title.
the rest of the world? And what about Berhalter?
If the Americans and big-name coaches are out of the equation, that leaves… well, a lot of coaches. The assumption here – and that’s it – is that such a combination is unlikely. It may take a unique set of circumstances for a foreign candidate without widespread name recognition to land the job prior to the above profiles. Not to be confused with that means they are unlikely to be the best choice.
A final possibility to consider is the possibility of rehiring Berhalter. Berhalter said in an interview with Harvard Business Review earlier this month that he would still like to gig in the 2026 cycle, but that seems very unlikely. Sources tell ESPN that things were heading in that direction in early December before Danielle Rina, the star’s mother John RinaNFL athletic director Ernie Stewart reported a 1991 domestic violence altercation in which Berhalter kicked his current wife during an argument. This revelation led the USSF to hire an outside law firm to investigate the dispute and to end contract negotiations.
Stewart told reporters earlier this month that pending the results of that investigation, it could be considered that Berhalter would resume the position. It is unclear when this investigation will end.