Who should be the next USWNT coach? Possible candidates, from Wiegman to Marsch

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AUCKLAND, New Zealand — Step one for the U.S. Soccer Federation may be to fire coach Vlatko Andonovski, who led the U.S. women’s national team to a worst-ever round-of-16 exit at the Women’s World Cup. There have been no announcements yet, but it seems pretty inevitable based on the stated expectations from Andonovski himself and the executives at U.S. Soccer.

But step two is the hard part: selecting a replacement. There is a very limited number of coaches in the world with the experience and track record to take a job as high-profile and as challenging as coaching the No. 1-ranked USWNT. (Arguably, that’s where U.S. Soccer went wrong with Andonovski, who may not have been qualified in the first place.)

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While the pool of qualified candidates is small, it’s made even smaller by the fact that not every coach U.S. Soccer wants will be available. Good coaches tend to be employed more often than they aren’t, and they aren’t always willing to abandon projects they’ve started just because a new team comes calling.

With that in mind, ESPN’s Caitlin Murray, Jeff Carlisle and Sophie Lawson take a look at some of the potential managers U.S. Soccer could consider.

Sarina Wiegman

The U.S. Soccer coaching search ought to start here.

After years of assistant roles with the Netherlands, Wiegman took the helm of the Dutch team in 2017 and quickly transformed them, winning the 2017 Euros after the team didn’t even get out of the group stage in the previous tournament. She followed that by steering them to the 2019 Women’s World Cup final — after that, the Dutch federation literally built a statue in her honor. The Netherlands were then knocked out in the quarterfinals of the Olympics on penalty kicks (coincidentally to the Andonovski-led USWNT) and she then took the helm of England.

Under Wiegman, England didn’t lose for 30 straight games, and are preparing this week for a World Cup quarterfinal date with Colombia. Even with missing a handful of starters due to injury — including top scorer Beth Mead and captain Leah Williamson — England has continued to look like one of the favorites.

Wiegman has a contract with the Lionesses until 2025, she has publicly said, and the timing would be rather abrupt for her to leave after only taking over England in 2021. But if U.S. Soccer is serious about getting the USWNT back on track and continuing to be a leader in women’s soccer, they should invest in attracting a proven coach like Wiegman. — Murray

Laura Harvey

If you’re one of the execs at U.S. Soccer, Harvey checks a lot of boxes. She has extensive experience coaching in the NWSL, becoming the first coach to manage more than 200 games in the league, and is a three-time NWSL Coach of the Year. She had success in England, too, winning six trophies with Arsenal.

Harvey also served as the U.S. women’s U20 national team manager from 2020-21. While the pandemic robbed her of a chance to take that squad to a U20 World Cup, there is familiarity with the player pool, given that the side she coached to the 2020 Concacaf Women’s U-20 Championship included Naomi Girma, Trinity Rodman and Sophia Smith. She’ll be on a first-name basis with some of the decision-makers at U.S. Soccer as well.

The fact that she was a finalist the last time the USWNT manager’s job came open figures to give her an edge over her competition. Frankly, the job looks like Harvey’s to lose, assuming she wants it (and assuming Wiegman opts to remain in Europe). — Carlisle

Tony Gustavsson

Why U.S. Soccer didn’t immediately try to set him up as the successor to Jill Ellis remains a head-scratcher to me. Gustavsson was an assistant coach for the USWNT under both Ellis and Pia Sundhage before that, being part of the coaching staff that led the USWNT to an Olympic gold and two World Cup titles. Fans might remember that he designed the set piece plays with which Carli Lloyd scored twice during the 2015 World Cup final.

After Sundhage stepped down, Gustavsson apparently wasn’t considered by U.S. Soccer because he lacked much head coaching experience, something he rectified that by managing club Tyreso in Sweden for a few years. I thought he was a strong candidate when Tom Sermanni was fired in 2014 and I’m told he interviewed for the job, but ultimately Ellis was hired and he was named her assistant.

Yet I was surprised when I didn’t hear Gustavsson’s name associated with the search for Ellis’ replacement in 2019. When I put together my “Who should replace Jill Ellis” list in 2019, Gustavsson was my No.1 choice (Andonovski didn’t even make my list). Presumably, his connection to Ellis — a coach that players disliked enough that they tried to get her fired before the 2019 World Cup — ruled him out, especially since it seems Andonovski was selected based on USWNT players liking him.

Australia smartly hired him instead and he’s leading a Matildas side that has looked impressive so far during this World Cup, even despite Sam Kerr‘s injury keeping her on the bench through four games. Depending how the Matildas do, he might not even want to leave.

If U.S. Soccer truly wants a clean slate and plans to clear house, then his past with the USWNT — despite his unquestionable success — could rule him out too. — Murray

Emma Hayes

A coach who will always be spoken about whenever there’s availability coaching the Lionesses, Emma Hayes’ sustained success with Chelsea speaks for itself. She built that title-winning team from the ground up, but also has a familiarity with the American system, having coached in the States for the best part of a decade.

A manager who has an eye on the bigger picture, there would be a clear lure to bringing the 46-year-old on board although there’s an argument she might be better suited to more of the type of role currently occupied by USWNT general manager Kate Markgraf. — Lawson

Bev Priestman

It’s only natural that Priestman’s name will be thrown around given Canada‘s Olympic success two years ago — Canada beat the USWNT in the Olympic semifinals to advance to the gold medal game, which they won over Sweden. But in the time since, the coach has mostly failed to progress the team’s style, erring on the side of caution with Canada. A group stage exit at this World Cup is a further blow to Priestman’s credentials.

There are of course caveats of what’s been going on behind the scenes with Canada Soccer — the fight between the players and the federation probably didn’t help team performance — but the job of overhauling the USWNT team and style is likely a job that would require too much of the English manager. — Lawson

Casey Stoney

If U.S. Soccer is looking for a coach with some familiarity with the U.S. player pool but well-rounded experience, the federation could do worse than Stoney. She was the NWSL’s Coach of the Year last season, though her San Diego Wave aren’t doing quite as well in 2023. Before that she coached Manchester United, in 2019 winning the second-tier in English football and earning promotion into the WSL.

She does have some international experience beyond her 130 caps as a player for England, too. When Phil Neville was inexplicably hired as head coach of the England team, he leaned heavily on Stoney, then team-captain, to fill in the very large gaps in his knowledge of women’s football. When she retired in 2018, she joined Neville’s coaching staff ahead of the 2019 World Cup, where England reached the semifinals. — Murray

Mark Parsons

Born in England but now an American citizen, Parsons led the Portland Thorns to an NWSL championship in 2017 and clinched NWSL Shields for the best regular season record in 2016 and 2021. With the Thorns, Parsons had the access to talent and the similarly high expectations one might find coaching the USWNT. Before that, he coached the Washington Spirit, leading a remarkable turnaround of a struggling team, and he had staff roles within Chelsea.

The reason Parsons might not be considered, however, is that his first national team job ended in disappointment, lasting barely more than a year as the Netherlands head coach. He steered the Dutch team in 2022 to a quarterfinals exit in the Euros, just three years after the Netherlands reached the World Cup final and five years after the Netherlands won a Euros. Still, he has international experience, and if U.S. Soccer believes it was more of an issue of the right fit rather than competence — his more transitional style from the Thorns may not have been the right match for the Netherlands — they could look past it. — Murray

Lorne Donaldson

Yes, this one is a long shot. Donaldson has taken the Reggae Girlz to unprecedented heights, all while battling funding issues with the Jamaica Football Federation. The impulse to continue building a program in the country of his birth may very well prove too strong. There’s also the fact that he lacks big-time club experience, having plied his trade mostly at youth level.

If he were to leave Jamaica, that is the next logical step in his coaching career. But imagine what Donaldson could do with a well-funded program like the U.S., where he wouldn’t have to scrape for resources. He’s also produced some dynamic players out of Real Colorado, including Sophia Smith and Mallory Swanson. There will be a built-in rapport with performers who are expected to be the backbone of the side in the next cycle.

All that said, as successful as Donaldson has been with Jamaica, the USWNT coaching search would have to take a lot of unexpected twists and turns for him to land the gig. –Carlisle

Lluís Cortés

A left-field suggestion, Cortes has had recent experience with a national team — Ukraine, to be specific — but is better remembered for delivering Barcelona their first Champions League crown in 2021. Although others had tried and failed, it was Cortés who managed to evolve the Barcelona squad into a dominant force in European football and among other things, helping double Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas realise her potential.

As the USWNT looks to the future, needing to further balance technical skill with innate athletic ability, Cortés’ experience with the nuances of flowing attacking football would be suited to the raft of exciting players up and coming through into the senior squad. — Lawson

Silvia Neid

It’s not a coach candidate list without a zany option or two, but depending who is and isn’t available, this could be worth exploring. Neid hasn’t coached for a few years, which means she can’t be considered among first-choice candidates. After the 2016 Olympics, she stepped away from coaching to become the director of Germany‘s youth programs and scouting. But she has hinted of late that she wants to return to coaching.

As Germany’s head coach, she won a World Cup in 2007, Olympic gold in 2016 and Euros trophies in 2009 and 2013. She has been the coach of a top program with enormous expectations, and she delivered. It’s unclear if she speaks English — she never has in news conferences or interviews, opting for interpretation — which is probably a requisite for the USWNT job. But if that’s not an issue … maybe?

This might be far-fetched, but who wouldn’t want to see Neid return to the sideline? –Murray

Jesse Marsch

We’ve officially gotten into the “snowball’s chance in hell” section of this list, but look: Herve Renard had never coached in the women’s game until he took over France ahead of the Women’s World Cup, and he’s doing a great job so far. (It helps that his predecessor Corinne Diacre was a terrible manager, a situation that could only get better once Renard stepped in.) Then consider John Herdman making the opposite jump, going from the Canada women’s team to the men’s team in 2018. It can be done, and it depends how desperate U.S. Soccer gets.

Marsch is arguably the best American coach in men’s soccer right now, and he was widely considered a favorite to take over the U.S. men’s national team job until U.S. Soccer’s “worldwide search” somehow led the federation back to rehiring Gregg Berhalter. (That’s a discussion for a different time, but it’s an interesting subplot as we consider that the same federation, including new sporting director Matt Crocker, is responsible for hiring Andonovski’s replacement.)

Overall, Marsch’s track record is a mixed bag, but he found genuine success in Austria‘s top flight and he helped Leeds United fend off relegation in the Premier League. Although his time with the USMNT was brief, he was an assistant under coach Bob Bradley. While Marsch probably wouldn’t want this job — he’s been linked with other Premier League clubs, and looks to be waiting for a position at the highest levels of men’s soccer — he is technically currently available.

The federation would have to really be backed into a corner to even try this, but U.S. Soccer could do worse. — Murray

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