On Tuesday, U.S. Soccer announced Jason Kreis as the new US Under-23 national team head coach, a move first reported by Paul Tenorio of The Athletic. Kreis, who will be balancing U-23 duties with his work on Inter Miami’s technical staff, leads the U-23s for the first time this week in a training camp in Spain, and will begin the Olympic qualifying phase later this year. It is his first coaching job since parting ways with Orlando City SC last June.
It’s a critical Olympics cycle for the US men’s national team. As Taylor Twellman tweeted, the Olympics don’t matter to every country, but they matter to the US right now. The Olympics are a huge moment for any athlete, and particularly so for the young crop of American soccer players. These players hitting the prime of their career need the experience of big tournaments and big games.
Such an important job for @USMNT development that our younger players play meaningful games with pressure on the int’l scene. Not every NT needs the #Olympics but @USMNT does and Kreis is now the man to get the job done. #USMNT https://t.co/GSN9g4I63o— Taylor Twellman (@TaylorTwellman) March 19, 2019
Kreis has a hugely important task ahead of him. There are two pretty clear and distinctive ways to view his hire.
- It’s U.S. Soccer hiring a retread who has already had his chance and been fired twice.
- It’s U.S. Soccer giving the reins and a new opportunity to a champion and proven winner.
Both are correct.
On the first point: The U-23 national team job isn’t a highly sought-after position. Few would choose to coach the Olympic team over a decent club professional team. As a result, the pool of starting options is generally unemployed managers, youth coaches or, in the US, college coaches.
So yes, Kreis was fired from his last two jobs, but by default the options include someone recently fired, or someone who has never coached professionals. Brazil, who won the gold medal at the 2016 Olympics, used a manager who had been a career U-20 coach. Portugal, who made the quarterfinals, promoted their U-21 coach to the job.
Another name stated in the mix was Tab Ramos, currently the US U-20s coach. Ramos has done a nice job with the U-20s the last two cycles, but has never managed a professional team. It would be a similar risk to give Ramos a new and different task as to give Kreis another chance.
It was always unlikely that U.S. Soccer would find someone who would knock people off their feet.
At that point, you’re looking for the best person available. While Kreis hasn’t met expectations recently, he’s also done some really impressive work as well. He won a championship in 2009 with Real Salt Lake and built a team that produced some of the best soccer in MLS history. They played a fast, decisive possession style with a fair share of defensive bite to go with it. It was only five years ago that Kreis was the most impressive young coach in the league and the hottest commodity on the market. His failed stints came with a year-one expansion franchise (New York City FC) and an Orlando City team who haven't exactly improved since he left.
TL;DR — It’s 100 percent someone getting a third chance before others get their first shot on the big stage, but I get why they did it. You could hire a sexier name, but that doesn’t mean the person is better suited for the job. I’m interested to see if Kreis still has some of the magic left in him.
The roster for the upcoming camp in Spain and two friendlies was also released on Tuesday.
The most important note is that it’s an incomplete list. Four obvious names are missing: Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Reggie Cannon. Plus whoever else may break through in the next 12 months (think Paxton Pomykal, Chris Richards, etc).
For the group that will be in Spain for friendlies vs. Egypt and the Netherlands, it will be nice to see some exciting names get a fresh opportunity and a full 90 minutes. Most of the names on the roster have struggled to break into the starting lineup for their clubs or have played an auxiliary role within the lineup.
Names like Josh Sargent, Timothy Weah and Keaton Parks have been on the tips of our tongues for a while, but we have rarely gotten the chance to see them play full games. Personally, I’m a little tired of talking about how good they could be and I’m ready to see it on the field.
Aside from the big names, there’s also a batch of guys like Cam Lindley and Eryk Williamson, who had promising youth careers but have found themselves buried on their MLS teams' depth charts. These friendlies will provide a chance to show everyone — fans who had forgotten about them, their own clubs, prospective other clubs — that they still have bright futures.