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Handicapping the potential USMNT coaching candidates

Although Earnie Stewart began his new job as general manager of the U.S. men’s national team on Aug. 1, the former USMNT midfielder – like most of American soccer’s movers and shakers – spent most of last week in Atlanta for the MLS All-Star game. That means that Stewart, for all intents and purposes, really gets to work this week. And his first order of business couldn’t be clearer: hire the coach that will take the U.S. back to the World Cup.

Stewart has yet to discuss the job with potential candidates. But when he was named GM in June on the eve of the first World Cup the Americans didn’t qualify for in 28 years, he said that he would start with a “wide list” of possibilities. He should. On a global scale, there would seem to be no shortage of contenders. Stewart has an obligation to leave no stone unturned.

At some point, though, Stewart will have to start narrowing those names down. How well do they know the U.S. talent pool? Have they successfully navigated CONCACAF qualifying in the past, or are they at least aware of some of the challenges the region presents? And are they even interested in the job, let alone available to accept it?

Start asking questions like that, and before too long you’re left with just a handful of legitimate options. Stewart doesn’t have to recruit the best coach in the world, but rather the best fit for this particular young U.S. team. Anyway, Pep Guardiola isn’t walking through that door.

So who will? A final decision is still a month or two away, at least. But it’s definitely not too early to start handicapping the field. Here are nine coaches who have been mentioned as possibilities for the USMNT job, and the likelihood that they’ll actually end up at the helm.

Gregg Berhalter, 45 years old, Columbus Crew 

Why he’ll get the job: One of the best young coaches in MLS, Berhalter’s teams play with an identifiable, possession-based style. He led the frugal Crew to an MLS Cup appearance in 2015 but Berhalter’s best work has come this year; he has kept Columbus above the playoff line all season despite potential relocation to Austin, Texas looming over the franchise. Berhalter has also coached in Europe, with Swedish side Hammarby, and is close to Stewart, his teammate on the 2002 U.S. team that reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup.  

Why he won’t: Fair or not, some see his tactical approach as too rigid. It’s also possible that U.S. Soccer could want to steer clear of even the appearance of a conflict of interest, as Berhalter’s brother, Jay, serves as U.S. Soccer’s chief commercial officer. That shouldn’t matter as long as the elder Berhalter – who sat on the committee that hired Stewart – isn’t at all involved in the coaching search.

Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter is a perhaps the most likely candidate to take over the USMNT. (AP)

Likelihood: 7 (scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most likely)

Juan Carlos Osorio, 57, unattached (most recently Mexico’s national team)

Why he’ll get the job: The Colombian checks just about every box. His three-year stint in MLS a decade ago was relatively successful. He led Mexico, the USA’s chief rival, to a first-place finish in CONCACAF qualifying last year, then took El Tri to the knockout stage of this summer’s World Cup. Off the field, Osorio would provide a high-profile bridge to the country’s enormous Latino population, a soccer-loving community that the USSF has long underserved. He’s available, too, having decided last month not to re-up with Mexico.

Why he won’t: Osorio could also be in the running for Colombia’s post, and he’s admittedly interested in leading his homeland. That potential leverage means he wouldn’t come cheap. Osorio is also a famous tinkerer when it comes to tactics, and that might not align with USSF’s desire to implement a consistent, long-term style of play within the national team.

Likelihood: 5

Peter Vermes, 51, Sporting Kansas City 

Why he’ll get the job: The longest-serving MLS boss has won  three U.S. Open Cups plus a league crowns with mall-market SKC over the last six seasons, getting draftees Matt Besler and Graham Zusi onto a U.S. World Cup roster along the way. As a player, Vermes captained the Americans at the 1990 World Cup. He’s been approached in the past and speaks fluent Spanish, which the USSF understandably considers a plus.   

Why he won’t: Former U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is a known admirer of Vermes, but Gulati isn’t doing the picking this time around. Vermes is also the technical director at Sporting; would he be able to operate without similar autonomy under Stewart? The New Jersey native also recently signed a new contract with SKC that runs until 2023.

Likelihood: 5 

Tab Ramos, 51, U.S. U-20 national team

Why he’ll get the job: With teenagers Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, and Weston McKennie expected to be front and center this cycle, who better to lead the youth movement than longtime U-20 boss Ramos, who probably has a better feel for the program’s youngsters than anyone? The lone internal candidate is bilingual, well regarded by everyone in the federation, and enjoyed a Hall of Fame career as a player, appearing in three World Cups.

Why he won’t: Ramos might come to regret not taking the assignment on an interim basis after Bruce Arena resigned in the wake of the Americans’ failure to make Russia 2018. He would’ve had at least a year to prove his case  – although he probably didn’t know that at the time – and the charge that Ramos has never coached a team of seasoned professionals, easily the biggest argument against his hiring, would’ve been rendered moot.

Likelihood: 4

Bob Bradley, 60, Los Angeles FC 

Why he’ll get the job: On paper, Bradley is perhaps the most qualified candidate of all. His five-year run as U.S. coach was the best in program history. He won the 2007 Gold Cup months into his tenure with a rebuilding squad, reached the Confederations Cup final in 2009, and topped a World Cup group that included England the following year. Bradley is also a far more experienced coach now, having managed Egypt’s national team and clubs in Norway, France and in the English Premier League.  

Why he won’t: It’s no secret that Bradley didn’t appreciate the way he was dumped by U.S. Soccer and replaced with Jurgen Klinsmann following the 2011 Gold Cup final loss to Mexico. That probably wouldn’t keep him from taking the job again if asked, although the first-class club he’s building with playoff-bound MLS expansion side LAFC might give him pause. Either way the sense is that U.S. Soccer would prefer a fresh start.

Likelihood: 2

Tata Martino, 55, Atlanta United 

Why he’ll get the job: Martino’s sterling resume includes stints leading Barcelona and Argentina, his home country. He’s familiar with much of the U.S. player pool intimately after two wildly successful seasons in Atlanta. The U.S. could do a lot worse.

Why he won’t: Martino still isn’t comfortable communicating in English, almost certainly insurmountable obstacle. And while his contract with United expires later this year, he’s happy in Atlanta and the club, which holds a multiyear option, wants him to return.

Likelihood: 2

Thierry Henry played in MLS, but could he want to coach the U.S. national team? (Goal.com)

Greg Vanney, 44, Toronto FC

Why he’ll get the job: The former USMNT defender led TFC to the best season in MLS history in 2017, during which the Reds captured the Supporters Shield, Canadian Championship and MLS Cup. The Reds also came within a hair of winning CONCACAF Champions League this spring, losing to Liga MX’s Guadalajara on penalties.

Why he won’t: Now in his fifth season in Toronto, Vanney has indicated that he’s not quite ready to take the U.S. job. His stock has also dipped along with TFC’s 2018 form; the Reds are six points outside of a playoff spot with two thirds of the season gone.

Likelihood: 1 

Thierry Henry, 40, unattached (most recently Belgium national team assistant)

Why he’ll get the job: After reaching the World Cup semifinal this summer under Roberto Martinez, Henry quit his job with Sky Sports to pursue other coaching opportunities. A brilliant football mind, the Frenchman respects the American players, and in particular the young MLS players, after spending his final five seasons as a player with the New York Red Bulls. 

Why he won’tHenry’s never been a full-time head coach at any level, so it’s hard to see him being considered this time around — assuming he’s even interested in being the U.S. boss at this stage of his fledgling managerial career.

Likelihood: .5

Louis van Gaal, 66, unattached (most recently Manchester United)

Why he’ll get the job: While the Dutchman has won just about everywhere he’s coached, his signature triumph was leading a young Ajax side to the 1995 UEFA Champions League title. He’s also available, having left Man United in 2016.

Why he won’t: Van Gaal would be a terrible fit in every way. He has no real ties to the U.S. and is known to be combative in his dealings with players, executives and media members. It’s certainly possible that he’s interested. His name won’t seem to go away. But contrary to rumors, he is not expected to emerge as a serious candidate for the position.

Likelihood: .5 

Doug McIntyre covers soccer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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