National Writer: Charles Boehm

USMNT interim coach BJ Callaghan leans on "foundation" for Nations League

Callaghan USMNT

To his credit, B.J. Callaghan was honest enough to admit that he never saw his new job title – interim head coach of the US men’s national team – coming.

Nor, it seems, did his superiors at US Soccer have much warning that Anthony Hudson would depart the program to take over as manager of a yet-to-be-named club, reportedly in the Middle East.

“It was Friday morning on the Memorial Day holiday. I was basically packing up my kids, I had to take my daughter to a lacrosse tournament in North Carolina,” explained Callaghan to reporters on a Thursday media availability following the release of the USMNT’s roster for the final phase of the Concacaf Nations League later this month.

“And [sporting director] Matt Crocker called, told me the news, and asked me if I was willing to step up.”

Next man up

Crocker, who is leading the hiring process for the next permanent head coach, has been in his post for barely a month. And the latest twist in the USMNT’s ongoing leadership saga is fresh enough that Callaghan, 41, can’t yet even say exactly who else will be coaching alongside him at this month’s camp, to which players will begin reporting on Sunday.

“It's a question I can't really answer directly with you right now, because everything with the staff isn’t signed and sealed. So I don’t want to be too presumptuous,” said the New Jersey native, though he revealed that prior experience with the USMNT or U.S. Soccer in general is a requirement.

“You have to practice what you preach. I know it does sound cliché, but in professional sports, a lot changes in a short amount of time,” Callaghan noted. “We constantly say, ‘next man up, next man up.’ And at this point in time, my number was called, and I'm honored to have the opportunity to step up.”

This is the first top-level senior head coaching post for Callaghan. Like Hudson, he was a member of Gregg Berhalter’s staff during the 2022 World Cup cycle, and, before that, worked under Jim Curtin with the Philadelphia Union first team, as well as in the Union’s academy and at Villanova University.

Now he’s got a matter of days to prepare for the top leadership role as the Yanks defend their CNL and Gold Cup titles over the next two months.

“I’ve been lucky to be intimately involved in almost every aspect of these teams that I've been part of. So you have that type of experience in, I would say, the operation of it,” said Callaghan.

“But we all know that the next biggest piece is, now the buck stops with me. And that's the piece that I have to step up on, and that's the piece that in this short period of time that I've been preparing for now, is that the final decision rests with me.”

Titles to defend

Setting aside the awkward optics of a second interim coach taking charge as the permanent job remains open for five months and counting – now with actual, meaningful competitive honors on the line – Callaghan & Co. must focus on results, starting with a weighty CNL semifinal clash with Mexico in Las Vegas on June 15, the winner of which will face either Canada or Panama in the tournament final three days later.

Even with 13 holdovers from the ‘22 World Cup squad and eight members of the team that beat Mexico to claim the inaugural Nations League championship two years ago, the US will have to defend their title without Tyler Adams, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tim Ream, Josh Sargent and a handful of other injured regulars. Conversely, recent dual-national recruits Folarin Balogun – “he’s one of the first guys I called when I got the news,” said Callaghan – Alejandro Zendejas and Alan Soñora are fresh reinforcements.

So is there turmoil in the group?

“When I called the players, there's always an element of surprise from the phone call [informing them] that Anthony steps down, and I can assure you that there was zero panic in the group,” responded Callaghan, using the phrase “business as usual” for his approach. “And that's a testament to the culture that we’ve built over the last four years. From my standpoint, the players are familiar with me, and I'm familiar with the players. There’s a sense of continuity.

“The way that we're going to operate, the way that we're going to run ourselves day to day, the messaging that we're going to have throughout the camp, is all going to be very familiar for them. And it’ll be stable. And so I think from that environment, we'll be able to have really, really good performances and have really, really good preparation.”

Much like Hudson emphasized in his months at the helm, the new No. 1 asserted that the framework crafted under Berhalter’s leadership is sturdy enough to sustain itself even with turnover at the top. 

“One common theme that we continue to talk about, we continue to build upon, is the foundation of the culture that we've been building over the last four years,” said Callaghan. “It's really something special that we have. It's something that we built intentionally about being all about the collective, having ownership.

"Everyone gets a piece of ownership, and, at the same time, we all have the responsibility to preserve it. We all know it’s always going to be bigger than the individual. So time and time again, I would say that we're a group that has shown that we can respond. And that we're in a current situation where we're faced with another challenge. We’ll embrace it."