Dave Sarachan: “You don’t want to put these guys on a pedestal yet. They’re not ready yet.” (Photo courtesy of the Rochester Rhinos)
By Michael Lewis
While the teenagers on the U.S. national team showed poise and potential in the three most recent friendlies, head coach Dave Sarachan isn’t about to nominate any of those youngsters for the National Soccer Hall of Fame, at least not just yet.
Remember, they’re young and the learning curve at the international level can be extremely steep if not slippery as many Americans can attest to.
“Time will tell. You don’t want to put these guys on a pedestal yet,” Sarachan said on The Soccer Is a Kick In the Grass radio show in Rochester Monday night. “They’re not ready yet. But there are certain steps you have to take, and they have taken them so far. We’ll continue to take a look at them and see what it looks like as we move forward.”
Sarachan, who attended Brighton High School in suburban Rochester, will return to his hometown to attend the Toronto FC II-Nashville SC regular season United Soccer League match at Marina Auto Stadium Saturday to draw awareness to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation Take Steps Walk being held at the stadium Saturday, Sept. 15
Even though it was only a friendly, the 1-1 draw with France in Lyon June 9 has taken on a different context and perspective in wake of the French winning the World Cup in Moscow, Russia July 15.
“Well, obviously there’s been a lot of dominos that have had to fall since last November,” Sarachan told co-hosts Andrew Battisti and Joe Sirianni. “We had a new president. That was one domino. And then hiring a general manager was Earnie Stewart. That was another domino. Before the dominos fell the program was still kind of up to me in terms of putting together what I felt made sense in this time where there is no qualifying, no Gold Cup.”
The Americans defeated a weak Bolivian side in Chester, Pa. May 28, 3-0, before losing at Ireland in Dublin, 2-1, June 2 and rebounding with that 1-1 draw in France.
A couple of 18-year-old attack-minded players, Josh Sargent and Tim Weah celebrated their first international goals in the Bolivian blowout in 19-year-old Christian Pulisic’s final international match probably until the fall. In Lyon, Julian Green, 23, who scored on his first touch of the ball in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014, gave the visitors a 1-0 lead before 19-year-old Kylian Mbappé, one of the French heroes in Russia, equalized in the 78th minute.
“These games were just ripe for an opportunity for young players because these young players, if they evolve the way we hope, can benefit from this when we do get into the qualifying.
“The Michael Bradley’s or Brad Guzan’s or Jozy Altidore’s, it doesn’t mean they’ll never be a part of it because I think it’s important to incorporate veteran players.
“My thinking going along in 2018 was how can we get these young guys this kind of experience that will benefit down the road? It was just the right thing to do. Sure enough, these young kids showed no fear and they’re not looking back and that was hopeful, very hopeful.”
Regardless what you call him — interim coach or caretaker coach — Sarachan is savoring his time and opportunity as the head man, taking nothing for granted while trying to move the program forward.
“While I am the senior men’s head coach, these jobs, you don’t know how long they’ll last,” he said. “Of course, it’s been a crazy eight, nine months since November when we finished our qualifying campaign.”
That was when the U.S. lost at Trinidad & Tobago Oct. 10, 2-1, and failed to reach the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
“I’ve had such a great opportunity to sort of turn the page and get things moving forward with the six friendlies with I was in charge of,” Sarachan said. “I’m tasked to keep doing this until they tell me they have other roles for me coming up or they want me fulltime. But i take it day by day. I continue to make the job enjoyable. I love these young players that we have.”
Sarachan will have an opportunity to throw these young players into the deep end again as the U.S. will host Brazil at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. Sept. 7 and Mexico in Nashville four days later.
The Americans want to play two friendlies during the international window in October and have a game scheduled vs. England at Wembley Nov. 15 and another match in Italy, venue TBD, Nov. 20.
“England in Wembley, that is truly going to be special,” Sarachan said. “I’ve been there obviously as a fan. It is an iconic place. To have that opportunity on the sidelines as a head coach is very, very special.”