Both the U.S. men's and women's national soccer teams will gather in Carson, California, this week for their annual winter training camps. While the former enters an era of self-inspection and reconstruction in the wake of catastrophic results last fall, the latter will begin work to avoid a similar fate this fall.
It's been three months since the lowest point in the men's team's history, an inexcusable defeat in Trinidad and Tobago that cost a World Cup berth for the first time in 32 years, cost Bruce Arena his coaching job and provoked questions about how the U.S. Soccer Federation operates. Still dazed, the Americans reconvened a month later with a mix of regulars and newcomers for a 1-1 friendly draw in Portugal.
The climb back to normality will begin in earnest Thursday for two and a half weeks of workouts and a January 28 friendly against Bosnia at StubHub Center. Dave Sarachan, the coaching caretaker until the position is filled permanently, will announce a roster of about 30 players Monday. With candidates from European and Mexican clubs unavailable, Sarachan will call on MLS players almost exclusively.
With no World Cup and no major tournaments until summer 2019, the United States will start rebuilding the player pool by focusing on prospects from the domestic circuit. The keys to the future, Bundesliga-based 19-year-olds Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, will not rejoin the team until the next official FIFA window, March 19-27. The Americans will probably play two friendlies, with one or both in Europe.
This month's camp will likely turn the spotlight on, among others, New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams, 18; FC Dallas midfielder Kellyn Acosta, 22; Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, 22; Los Angeles FC defender Walker Zimmerman, 24; and Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen, 22.
It will probably offer a first opportunity to forward Christian Ramirez, 26, who toiled in the second tier before scoring 14 goals for expansion Minnesota United last year. It's also likely to further integrate forward Josh Sargent, 17, a youth national team star who will join Germany's Werder Bremen next month.
As for a permanent coach, the USSF has yet to determine the structure and process of conducting the search. In the past, federation President Sunil Gulati has spearheaded the hunt in consultation with chief executive Dan Flynn and, ultimately, with approval of the board of directors. Moving forward, the USSF might hire a general manager or turn to a search committee.
Nothing is expected to happen until after the presidential election Feb. 10 in Orlando. Gulati will not seek reelection, and eight candidates are vying for the unpaid job. Kathy Carter, president of MLS-owned Soccer United Marketing, and Hall of Fame forward Eric Wynalda are the early favorites.
The women are in a much better place than the men – albeit not without concerns.
Jill Ellis summoned 26 players for a camp that will conclude with a January 21 friendly against Denmark in San Diego. Tobin Heath (ankle injury), Rose Lavelle (hamstring) and Samantha Mewis (knee) are not available.
The Americans are marching toward the World Cup qualifying tournament this fall at U.S. venues to be determined.
In pursuit of berths, there are few parallels between the men's and women's programs. The men follow a two-year schedule with an equal number of home and away matches against foes with decades of tradition; the women host a two-week, eight-team tournament with one other accomplished team (Canada).
On the world stage, while the men continue to swim upstream in a sport with more than 100 years of male tradition, the top-ranked women have been ahead of the global curve since soccer first welcomed female competition about 30 years ago. With three CONCACAF teams earning automatic berths in the 2019 Women's World Cup in France, U.S. passage is almost a foregone conclusion.
To prepare for the qualifiers, the Americans will host the SheBelieves Cup in March and the Tournament of Nations this summer. Second-ranked Germany, No. 3 England and No. 6 France will participate in the first event in Columbus, Ohio; Harrison, N.J.; and Orlando. Last year, featuring the same teams, the Americans finished last. They then took second place behind Australia in the latter competition.
Ellis's experiments last year with formations, positions and new players provided a blueprint for the World Cup plan.