After the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup last week, many have speculated how men’s soccer can grow and change in the U.S. to avoid this outcome in the future. Some say it’s time for an overhaul in player selection; others believe it’s time for a regime change at the U.S. Soccer Federation. However, there is only one clear decision that will undeniably cause positive change: the hiring of a new technical director.
The job of a technical director is to oversee the player and coaching development of every member of a club or national team. The position is integral to a team’s success. Essentially, a technical director has to think broadly about what a team aspires to become, and come up with a plan to get it there. The technical director plots out the style and quality of soccer at which the team aspires to play. They serve as the team's creative visionary.
In the case of the USMNT, the technical director outlines what type of players the program will be looking for at each age group, what style of play they want from players, and what level of quality they demand from players looking to play for the USMNT.
The last person to hold the position for the USMNT was former head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who took the job in 2013 when he signed a contract extension as head coach that allowed him to take over technical director’s duties. Even though Klinsmann ultimately failed during this World Cup cycle, his successes as technical director cannot be denied. In his time, Klinsmann established new U-16 and U-19 national teams, increased U.S. soccer’s development budget, demanded that every U.S. Development Academy have need-based financial aid programs for their players, and updated the curriculum for all of the coaching courses.
Klinsmann knew that the United States aspired to become one of the global competitors in soccer, and quickly devised a plan to get the nation there. Whoever takes over the technical director position now has the important task of getting the program back on track and creating a greater vision for American soccer. Most importantly, they will have to stick to it.
While the hiring of a new coach is certainly important, if U.S. Soccer truly wants systemic change, it must focus its search on a proper replacement for technical director – someone who U.S. Soccer can trust with their future, with great aspirations and a plan to reach them.
The coach decides which players get called to the national team, but the technical director has a huge responsibility in setting the tone for the quality of those players. With that in mind, the USMNT’s top priority should be to find a well-qualified technical director who can come in with an understanding the foundation and flaws of the U.S. team, and create a plan to make the United States the great soccer nation it aspires to be.