Sometimes It Is the Coach’s Fault

The criteria were rigorous. The data analytics were advanced. The metrics were sophisticated, and the hiring methods cutting-edge. Most important, as U.S. Soccer set out on its global search for a new men’s national team coach last year, it had at its disposal the one thing every successful soccer team needs: a multifaceted evaluation mechanism.

That was not all. There was much more corporate jargon to come. Matt Crocker, U.S. Soccer’s technical director, had worked out that there were 22 elements to coaching a single soccer team — including driving “player off-camp engagement” and supporting “squad auditing” — as well as eight “core competencies.”

This list, too, was exhaustive. Any candidate for the head coaching position had to possess a “vision-led identity” — making the whole thing sound a bit like a help-wanted plea for an optician — in addition to being a creative developer and a passionate innovator, which we should stress are absolutely not the same thing.

Crocker must have felt as if he and his staff had ticked every box, covered every base, when the search concluded with the previous incumbent, Gregg Berhalter, being replaced by himself. With the benefit of hindsight, sadly, there should have been a ninth core competency for the coach of the U.S. men’s national team: Don’t lose to Panama.

It has been that sort of week for U.S. Soccer. On Monday, a few days after that harrowing loss to Panama, Berhalter’s team fell to Uruguay, eliminating it from a Copa América on home soil at the group stage. It’s a particularly troubling humiliation, given that the country will host the World Cup in two years.