Tab Ramos a winner, analytics a loser as Bruce Arena returns to U.S. fold?
Bruce Arena has returned as head coach of the United States men's national team and takes over a squad that's down but not out, one desperate for a renewed sense of purpose and some positive results in March's World Cup qualifiers. The coach has little time and a lot to do, which means he'll likely keep in place some parts of the program while altering others.
Who will win and who will lose in the Klinsmann/Arena transition? We have some ideas.
The former U.S. star attacking midfielder initially joined the American staff as the Under-20 coach and eventually rose to Youth Technical Director and one of Klinsmann's senior team assistants. Ramos, who's on the short list of candidates to replace Arena as head coach following the 2018 World Cup, should see his oversight of the youth programs increase with Arena focused entirely on reaching Russia.
"Tab Ramos is an example of a good hire Jurgen made at a youth level," former national teamer Kyle Martino said. "He has the credibility from a player perspective, but he's also showed that he was the tactical management acumen as well."
Additionally, Ramos' familiarity with the U-20 age group (which he has overseen for three cycles) is a plus if and when he does audition for the senior job.
Other U.S. youth coaches
Ramos is the most obvious beneficiary of the new regime, but he isn't the only youth coach who will gain from the change. Since "The Arena Project" has only one goal -- finish top three in the Hexagonal -- there will be minimal turnover elsewhere in the program (with a notable exception covered below). Arena has neither the time nor the mandate to replace coaches such as John Hackworth (U-17s) and Brad Friedel (U-19s).
"I think all those people will stay in place, in terms of what is there right now," former U-20 national team coach Thomas Rongen said. "He's not going to worry about getting rid of those guys right now."
Doing so would be both unnecessary and counterproductive. As such, both should have at least two more years to show their long-term value.
A trusted lieutenant
At least some of Arena's success at various stops along the way comes from his ability to see the big picture and then have his assistants implement that vision.
"He doesn't micromanage," Rongen said. "He needs loyal people around him, like Bob Bradley [at the University of Virginia and D.C. United] and Dave Sarachan [with the Los Angeles Galaxy]. He will take people with him who really understand his personality."
Who exactly those people will be this time around remains to be seen, but they will likely be familiar faces.
"I think he'll probably appoint the people he's been close with in the past," said Frankie Hedjuk, who played for Arena on the national team. Reports say Arena wants to fill his coaching staff by the third week in December, which means we'll soon know who will get the top spot.
Klinsmann brought on the former Austrian national team midfielder as an assistant in 2011 and promoted him to U-23 coach in 2015. He failed to reach the 2016 Summer Olympics, overseeing a poor performance against Honduras during CONCACAF qualification and a two-game defeat to Colombia in a playoff. It's nearly impossible to see him staying on for much longer under Arena.
"You'd have to feel that Hertzog, who was [Klinsmann's] most trusted lieutenant, probably won't have a role, based not only on shortcomings when he was coaching but also because that's the most important position to hire when you're looking at roles," Martino said. (As an aside, Berti Vogts, Klinsmann's technical advisor, is also not long for the U.S. staff.)
The former coach loved numbers and data; the new coach is less of a fan.
"I'm not a person that digs deep into analytics because I don't think the sport of soccer is an analytic sport," Arena said recently. "I think baseball clearly is. I think football can be. Basketball a little more. Soccer's a hard one."
Translation: We're likely to see a less data-driven approach for the senior team as it attempts to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
It isn't necessarily a bad thing -- Arena's 2002 World Cup team managed to be one of the fittest in the world -- but how that dislike filters down to the lower levels will be interesting to watch. In recent years, U.S. Soccer, at the behest of Klinsmann but also with an eye toward the future, has put millions of dollars into its analytics program. To stop that effort wouldn't be smart.
The "Klinsmann saga" is a black mark on the USSF president's tenure. He comes out of it looking worse than before, with his hand-picked coach having failed in rather dramatic fashion. Although credit should go to Gulati for finally making a change and hiring the correct man to lead the Americans for the next 18 months, the stumbles of the past five years came on his watch.
Noah Davis is a Brooklyn-based correspondent for ESPN FC and deputy editor at American Soccer Now. Twitter: @Noahedavis.