With Bruce Arena announcing that he has stepped down as US Men’s National Team coach, now is the time for the US to start looking for a permanent new manager. They need someone who can get them back on track and start winning games again and get the US to the World Cup in 2022 and quite honestly they need someone who can do it with some sizzle and panache. US Soccer needs to fill a Brinks truck with cash and go after one man: Tata Martino.
It should be noted here that yes Bruce Arena needs to go but he was never going to stick around for a whole additional cycle. When Jurgen Klinsmann was fired Arena was brought in to salvage the US campaign and get them to Russia 2018. He was always going to be gone after the World Cup anyway. Obviously he failed in the task given to him and now here we are wondering about who can get us back to a measure of respectability.
Tata Martino should be the first (and hopefully only) call US Soccer should make. To put it simply, the guy wins everywhere he coaches. He’s been successful at the club level and he’s been successful at the international level. That’s what the US needs now: someone who can win at the international level. With all due respect to Jurgen Klinsmann, the US has never really had a coach with the kind of pedigree and international recognition as Martino (Yes, Klinsmann helmed Germany during the 2006 World Cup but he was more famous for his exploits as a player in the 90’s). Martino has coached Paraguay and Argentina internationally and at the club level has coached Newell’s Old Boys (one of the more prestigious clubs in Argentina), is currently enjoying success with MLS expansion side Atlanta United and of course was running the show at Barcelona for a season. In addition to having a vast wealth of coaching experience, Martino’s teams are usually lauded for playing attacking and creative soccer, something the US soccer community has been begging for, for the better part of at least a decade. Furthermore, Martino is renowned for his ability to develop young talent into high quality players. Look no further than the job he’s done in a short time at Atlanta United. Not only are they playing a lot of young guys, they’re demolishing opposing teams and banging in goals left and right (even scoring a whopping seven goals against the New England Revolution a few weeks ago).
His record at Paraguay (from February 2007 to July 2011) does not really reflect the level of success he had with them. His overall record was 27-22-21 (W-L-D) which is only good for a 53% winning percentage but he got results in tournaments that mattered. He took Paraguay to the quarter-finals of the 2007 Copa America (beating the USA 3-1 along the way). He got them to the World Cup in 2010 where they went all the way to the quarter-finals before falling to eventual champions Spain (in what was a pretty wacky game that saw three penalties saved, one retaken and a winner from David Villa that hit both posts before going in). The next summer, at the 2011 Copa America, Martino guided Paraguay all the way to the final where they lost to Uruguay. Since Martino left it’s been tough sledding for Paraguay. They failed to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil (even though with Brazil hosting, South America got an extra team). They then finished fourth at the 2015 Copa America and failed to make it out of the group stage at the 2016 Copa America Centenario (losing to the USA 1-0 along the way). And finally, they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Martino’s next stop internationally was his native Argentina where he managed from August of 2014 until July of 2016. His record in that time was 20-4-5 (W-L-D) good for a 77% winning percentage. He only managed Argentina through two international tournaments though and finished as runner-up in both of them: the 2015 Copa America (where they thrashed his former side Paraguay 6-1 in the semi-finals) and the 2016 Copa America Centenario (where they ran roughshod over the USA in the semi-finals to the tune of 4-0). Oddly enough both times they lost in the final on penalties against Chile (who will also be watching the World Cup at home next summer). Martino resigned shortly after the second exit against Chile, as a form of protest at the way the Argentine federation was doing things (a number of the players, including Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero briefly retired from the national team for the same reason). Without Martino at the helm, Argentina went into a tailspin and very nearly failed to qualify for the World Cup, needing a hat trick from Messi in the final game to ensure safe passage.
At the club level, Martino has been just as successful. While managing Newell’s Old Boys in his native Argentina, Martino went 35-17-18 (W-L-D) which is good for a 62% winning percentage and in his final season made it to the Primera Division final. After that he made the move to Barcelona where he amassed a record of 40-8-11 (W-L-D) for a 74% winning percentage. Now, you could make the argument that he was a failure at Barcelona because by Barcelona’s own standards, it was not a wonderful season. They did win the Supercopa de Espana that year but finished second in La Liga, were runners-up in the Copa del Reay and were dumped out of the UEFA Champions League in the quarter-finals. So after one season, he announced his resignation. His most recent venture into club soccer has been with MLS expansion side Atlanta United and people are already proclaiming it the most successful expansion side ever. At the time of the writing of this article, Atlanta sits in third in the Eastern Conference and has already secured a playoff berth. Atlanta’s record is 15-9-8 (W-L-D) for a 59% winning percentage. They got off to a bit of a bumpy start but as mentioned earlier, they have been steamrolling other teams of late. In fact, they are unbeaten in 14 of their last 16 games dating back to the end of June.
So, Martino has had success at the club level and at the international level. His teams play attacking soccer that is fun to watch and he develops youth prospects and turns them into formidable soccer players. The one kock you could hold against him is that he doesn’t really win a ton of trophies, but at this point the US isn’t in any kind of shape to be asking him to win a ton of trophies. It’s now on US Soccer to contact him and make him say no. Now, it’s possible that he could say no. He’s only been in the US for a year after all and has a good thing going in Atlanta. So in the event that he does indeed pass on the job, here are some other guys the US could turn to:
Juan Carlos Osorio – Has managed in MLS at two different clubs (Chicago tFire and New York Red Bulls). Also managed Sao Paulo in Brazil for a season. Currently the manager of Mexico, where he’s done well (aside from a 7-0 mauling at the hands of Chile in the Copa America Centenario). Guided Mexico through the Hex with just a single loss, though you get the sense that Mexico fans have never really taken a liking to him. Could help bridge the gap to the Spanish speaking community in this country.
Marcelo Bielsa – Been around the block a few times internationally with Argentina and Chile and was a serious candidate for the Mexico job before it went to Osorio. Has done well at the club level in Europe with Marseille, Lazio and now Lille.
Peter Vermes – Fans should be leery of hiring an MLS manager just because he’s an American because that opens the door to criticism about things not really changing. However, Vermes is a winner (he’s won an MLS Cup and three US Open Cups with Sporting Kansas City) and is known for being able to get the best out of his players. One drawback is that he has no international managing experience, though with no competitive games for the US until at least July of 2019 he could grow into it.
Tab Ramos – Another one that could be thought of as a “safe” hire that doesn’t really change anything. Ramos should have arguably gotten the interim job instead of Arena after Klinsmann was fired. He has worked with the US youth teams so he may be able to develop the younger players as he has worked with them before.