The semifinals for the Women’s World Cup have begun, and for the first time in tournament history, the United States isn’t there. There are big decisions to make, and perhaps none looms larger than that of who will lead the USWNT as head coach in the next World Cup cycle. After a tournament in which the team performed well below expectations, Vlatko Andonovski is not expected to stay in his role.
Still, the “who’s next” question isn’t an easy one to answer, or even speculate about. This partly has to do with the team’s dismal performance in the tournament (by its own standards) and the clear progression of the rest of the world. It also has to do with the fact that the future of USWNT general manager Kate Markgraf is also up in the air under new U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker. Markgraf, or whoever takes her place should she depart, would be the one responsible for hiring the next USWNT head coach…if U.S. Soccer maintains its current structure, which it might not.
Regardless of who makes the next hire, though, U.S. Soccer’s decision will depend on which direction it wants to take the team over the next four years. Is a total technical style overhaul needed? How important is it to get a big name that will resonate with the game’s biggest stars? Or should the U.S. just keep on keeping on, betting on 2023 being just a blip on the radar?
Here, our staff outlines some possible directions for the USWNT and a couple of coach options that might fit that plan. This is not a definitive list of candidates. Some options may seem ridiculous, and that’s partly the point. It’s a thought exercise, so take it as such.
Start from scratch, go off the beaten path
For one thing, he’d be the most fashionable coach the U.S. has ever had. But in addition to that, Renard has shown with France how much he can do in only six months (roughly) of managing a team. While I don’t think he’ll leave France any time soon, the USWNT needs a completely different outlook to what they’ve seen before and a coach who’s willing to factor in the best possible formation for the players he has on hand. Renard has shown a willingness to play on the front foot, and always looks to win with the talent at his disposal regardless of where he is (see his work with Saudi Arabia at the 2022 World Cup). Renard would be a solid choice if the federation wants to go with someone who has (some) experience in women’s soccer, but still comes in with a totally fresh outlook. – Kudzi Musarurwa
This, to be clear, is an oddball choice. But hey, this is a thought exercise! Is Graham Potter still looking for a new chapter in life? Why not him? I will conveniently ignore his time at Chelsea and point out that his Brighton & Hove Albion teams played great, free-flowing soccer and were only held back by a lack of clinical strikers. The USWNT couldn’t finish at the World Cup but that was because the players weren’t being put into the right formation to be more efficient in front of goal. He’s without a job at the moment, and he does have a bit of experience in the women’s game, as technical director for Ghana at the 2007 World Cup. Hire Potter if you want to see beautiful soccer again. – Kudzi Musarurwa
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Maintain the current style of play, with tweaks
If U.S. Soccer is looking for a fresh face who won’t rock the boat too much, then they need to look no farther than right across the border. Canada’s Bev Priestman — whom I would argue with my esteemed colleague Kudzi would also be a fashion-forward candidate as much as Renard — has done what she could with the talent pool she has, and has Olympic gold to her name (though that achievement may be somewhat overestimated). With all due respect to a heroic once-in-a-lifetime performance from Steph Labbé and Canada’s do-or-die defending, they also had a soupcon of luck sprinkled in there. But it was also savvy from Priestman to play to the team’s strengths and not try to turn them into some kind of smooth possession-oriented team — they played hardball defensively and took their chances where they had them.
The U.S. is a team that could use a coach that isn’t going to come in and flip everything on its head, tactically speaking, given the personnel that they have. But adjustments and tweaks? More flexibility in formation? Absolutely. Priestman has had Canada playing in a 4-2-3-1 at times, and that was what the U.S. was most successful with at the World Cup. I also think her management style could suit a locker room with so many strong personalities; she’s not the most outspoken coach out there, but has grown through her time as an assistant with England and then in charge at Canada. She won’t try to override the players through the strength of her own personality, but can also withstand a room with a lot of opinions. – Steph Yang
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If I’m correct in my expectation that U.S. Soccer, in selecting the next USWNT head coach, will aim for the sweet spot between “fundamentally, radically different” and “comfort zone,” they’ll want someone who brings relevant international experience but still possesses a keen understanding of the American soccer landscape — where it’s been, and where it should be headed. How about a Jamaican player-turned-coach who helped establish Real Colorado, one of the most prestigious youth soccer clubs in the country? How about the guy who coached Sophia Smith and Mallory Swanson, two players likely to be the face of the women’s national team for generations to come? A guy who can help this team ease itself into the sweet spot between relentless hard work and unconditional joy, as he’s done with the Reggae Girlz? Donaldson is that man.
I hesitate to make a point about the importance of representation, but facts are facts: the U.S. women’s national team has never had a Black head coach before, yet the talent pool and pipeline to the senior women’s team in the U.S. is full of Black players, many of whom have unique skill sets that require specialized understanding that not all coaches have, regardless of their race. But Donaldson’s resume demonstrates that he does, and as the U.S. women’s national team makes this transition, they’d be wise to keep him top of mind. – Tamerra Griffin
The pre-tournament chaos Jamaica survived to reach World Cup knockouts
Bring in a big name
Sweden has been among the USWNT’s fiercest rivals long before 2017, and the sides have crossed paths often since Gerhardsson took over Blågult that year. In those meetings, Sweden has routinely played the United States close, with the recent round of 16 victory being the most recent example. It’s clear that he’s done his homework on the players who would be available to whoever coaches this team next — and, like Wiegman, he’s made it to a semifinal in consecutive summers.
Gerhardsson’s tactics aren’t the most aesthetically pleasing, prioritizing effectiveness over flair. Sweden averaged just 7.5 chances created per game at this World Cup. That’s below the field’s average of 8.6, ranks 167h among the 32 teams, and is a shadow of the United States’ second-ranked 14.8 per game. And yet, they’ve converted those relatively scant opportunities to great success: their 2.0 expected goals per game ranks sixth, just behind the U.S. at 2.3 and ahead of 11th-ranked England’s 1.8.
He’s also something of a beloved figure among his players in Sweden. Considering his success against the U.S. in this tournament, as well as the 3-0 dismantling at the Tokyo Olympics, his name should be among the shortlist of contenders from his accomplishments alone. – Jeff Rueter
For a program looking to rebound swiftly, it might be wise to hire someone who has found weak spots in the existing infrastructure, and who also happens to have found a fair bit of recent success.
Wiegman is one of two coaches to lead their team to at least the semifinal in both the 2022 Women’s Euro and 2023 Women’s World Cup. She takes a “schoolmasterly approach” to handling players, with more than a little in common with compatriot Louis van Gaal in terms of tactical ideology and player management approaches. It has worked wonders for England, actualizing the potential of a booming generation of players to finally win a tournament and keep in contention for a second. While it was a friendly, England’s 2-1 win over the United States at Wembley in 2022 could also serve as a screening interview, as both teams played near full-strength lineups.
Despite how coveted the U.S. post will be, Wiegman would be an ambitious target. She’s under contract with the FA until 2027, and it would no doubt cost a lot to release her from that pact (if she would even want to be released in the first place). If the U.S. is determined to win in four years’ time, though, there are worse gambits to deploy than bolstering your own side while weakening a possible rival. – Jeff Rueter
How Sarina Wiegman manages – by those who’ve experienced it
For a couple of World Cup cycles, Laura Harvey’s eventual ascent to the U.S. women’s national team manager position has felt inevitable. She started an advisory position with U.S. Soccer in 2017, following her departure from OL Reign, before Utah Royals tempted her to return to NWSL management. She interviewed for the job Andonovski eventually got in 2019, and served under him as Under-20 head coach and senior assistant for a year.
“The U.S. women’s national team job is probably the top job in the world, if not a top three job in the world,” Harvey told media on August 6. “That’s just reality. And if my name is anywhere near it, then that’s an honor.”
Harvey added that she isn’t thinking about her next job, and is fully focused on OL Reign’s season. But the message from her quotes was pretty clear: Yes I’m interested, please call me.
Previously, a coach representing the best option for continuity in the USWNT program would have been a huge positive, but that might not be true this cycle. The similarities to Andonovski are numerous. She is not American, but has had her coaching philosophy heavily influenced by a long stint in NWSL. She prefers a balanced 4-3-3 mid-block setup. She’s very much a players’ coach, and many of her players would call her a friend. Her U-20s played similarly to Andonovski’s USWNT to ready players for the senior team.
There’s no more obvious candidate for the job, but Harvey might be ruled out due to what her hiring would signal: More of the same. The federation would have a lot of explaining to do if it replaced Andonovski with a coach who has the exact same profile as the one that just led the team to a round of 16 exit. Is “run it back, but execute a little better this time” a winning formula? – Kim McCauley
Analyzing USWNT coaching decisions during early World Cup exit
If you found yourself thinking “I want the old USWNT back” while watching this World Cup, then oh boy, do I have wild card candidate for you. Perhaps it is time for Jesse Marsch to bring the Energy Drink Soccer philosophy from the men’s game to the USWNT.
The former MLS and USMNT player led the New York Red Bulls to two Supporters’ Shield wins before departing for Europe. After spending a year as RB Leipzig assistant, he was named manager of Red Bull Salzburg, where he won the Austrian Bundesliga-Cup double in back-to-back seasons.
His last two jobs didn’t go as well. Marsch was promoted to head coach at RB Leipzig in summer of 2021, and didn’t make it to Christmas. He moved to Leeds and narrowly avoided relegation, but results weren’t any better in his first full season, and he was sacked in February. Leeds were eventually relegated.
Marsch is a formation-flexible coach, but it would be a stretch to call him a tactically flexible one. Whether his teams are playing 4-4-2, 4-3-3 or 3-4-3, the philosophy is the same: Put your foot on the accelerator and don’t ever tap the brakes. His ultra-high-pressing style aims to run opponents into the ground, leading to both spectacularly dominant performances and some absolute comedy conceding goals when the press isn’t executed properly.
Historically, this is a style that fits the USWNT very well. Whether or not Marsch is a viable candidate depends on whether U.S. Soccer wants a return to tradition, or if they want to leave this style in the past (to say nothing of whether or nor Marsch would want to jump to the women’s game) – Kim McCauley
(Top photos: Getty Images)