EletiofeThe USWNT coaching search has reportedly reached a very...

The USWNT coaching search has reportedly reached a very predictable final stage

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SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 29: United States interim head coach Twila Kilgore talks with Emily Fox #23 during the second half of an international friendly against Colombia at Snapdragon Stadium on October 29, 2023 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)

USWNT interim head coach Twila Kilgore talks with Emily Fox during a friendly against Colombia at Snapdragon Stadium on Sunday in San Diego. (Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images) (Brad Smith/ISI Photos/USSF via Getty Images)

Nearly three months on from its unofficial outset, the U.S. women’s national team coaching search is seemingly inching toward a predictable conclusion.

There are at least three finalists for the job: Australia’s Tony Gustavsson, OL Reign’s Laura Harvey and Juventus’ Joe Montemurro, according to Friday reports from ESPN and The Athletic. There could be more, and there could still be twists, but interviews have occurred. A choice is expected over the coming weeks.

And if it is ultimately Gustavsson, Harvey or Montemurro, it will do nothing to assuage skepticism of U.S. Soccer’s process.

It has dragged on because, according to U.S. Soccer sporting director Matt Crocker, it has been data-driven and rigorous. It supposedly started with hundreds of names. An “evidence-based” approach narrowed the pool to double digits, then to a shortlist. All of this, Crocker told reporters last month, was a means to an end, which was “to find us the best candidate in the world.”

Realities contradict that flowery narrative. The best candidate, Sarina Wiegman, isn’t available. And the next name on the tips of tongues two-and-a-half months ago, Gustavsson, may not be interested.

It hasn’t taken months to identify Gustavsson, a recent World Cup semifinalist with prior USWNT experience. Average Joe could’ve done that the moment Vlatko Andonovski resigned. Gustavsson was the second-most celebrated coach in international women’s soccer when he led Australia’s Matildas deep into the 2023 World Cup largely without Sam Kerr, their best player. He previously coached the U.S. women as an assistant under Pia Sundhage and Jill Ellis. He is a respected tactician. So of course he’d be strongly considered.

PERTH, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 26: Tony Gustavsson Head Coach of the Matildas gives out instructions during the AFC Women's Asian Olympic Qualifier match between Australia Matildas and IR Iran at HBF Park on October 26, 2023 in Perth, Australia. (Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images)

Australia’s Tony Gustavsson is reportedly a finalist for the USWNT head coaching vacancy. (Photo by James Worsfold/Getty Images) (James Worsfold via Getty Images)

But would he ditch Australia — the team, and the country that fell for him this summer?

He is under contract through the 2024 Olympics; would U.S. Soccer potentially pay enough to get him out of that contract?

And would he move to Chicago? Or would U.S. Soccer allow him to live abroad if he agreed to take the job?

Those are some of the questions presumably and reportedly at the center of the process now. Gustavsson reiterated last week that he “loves” coaching Australia, and it’s his “full focus.” “I’m proud to be talked about for a job like [the USWNT job], it’s one of the biggest jobs in the world in terms of the finance, and interest, and all that,” he said. “But [Australia], for me, is also the biggest job in the world.”

Gustavsson continued, though: “I was also clear [after the World Cup], and I want to be clear now, I want to see investment [in women’s soccer from Australia’s federation and stakeholders]. For me to be motivated to stay as well, we can’t be complacent.”

U.S. Soccer invests more in its team than Australia can, and could almost certainly pay Gustavsson more than Australia pays him. But U.S. Soccer would also prefer that he relocate to the States — which, according to The Athletic and ESPN, Gustavsson likely wouldn’t want to do.

“This is very much a Chicago-based role, someone that’s in and around the office environment 3-6-5,” Crocker said when describing the USWNT vacancy in September. Like his predecessor in the sporting director job, Earnie Stewart, Crocker wants a coach who’ll collaborate with U.S. Soccer’s other coaches and staff at federation headquarters, “somebody that doesn’t just want to improve the performance of the senior team, [but] views [their] import in terms of supporting the overall pathway in style of play, supporting the youth national coaches,” he told TNT.

That preference, it seemed, was one of the reasons Crocker chose to rehire Gregg Berhalter rather than seek out a higher-profile coach on the men’s side.

Crocker’s willingness to deviate from it could now define his USWNT search — because Gustavsson is clearly the most qualified candidate.

SEATTLE, WASHINGTON - OCTOBER 20: Sydney Leroux #2 of Angel City FC and head coach Laura Harvey of OL Reign walk to the pitch together before the game at Lumen Field on October 20, 2023 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)

Angel City FC’s Sydney Leroux and OL Reign head coach Laura Harvey walk to the pitch together before the game at Lumen Field on Oct. 20 in Seattle. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images) (Steph Chambers via Getty Images)

The two other reported finalists have been resurfaced from the USWNT’s last coaching search in 2019. Harvey was the runner-up to Andonovski. Montemurro was pursued by U.S. Soccer, a source confirmed to Yahoo Sports; but Arsenal, his club at the time, wouldn’t let him interview.

Neither would be an inspiring choice four years later. Harvey, who first came to the U.S. from England in 2013, has been consistently above-average in the National Women’s Soccer League, but has very limited international experience — in 2020-21, with U.S. Soccer under-20s and as an assistant to Andonovski with the senior team.

Montemurro, whose career began in his native Australia (first coaching men, then women), rose to prominence in 2019 by leading Arsenal to an English Women’s Super League title. After two more (trophy-less) seasons in London, he left the club and landed at Juventus in the under-resourced Italian Serie A. He, too, has never managed a national team.

Either could turn out to be a perfectly fine USWNT head coach. But their presence among the finalists speaks to a dearth of intriguing candidates, which threatened to plague this search all along. The American soccer ecosystem has largely failed to develop quality professional coaches. On Aug. 4, when the U.S. lost to Sweden and Andonovski all but lost his job, there was no obvious replacement. The only thing that changed between then and now — and in a way, apparently, the only thing that changed between 2019 and now — is that Gustavsson won two World Cup knockout games (one of them on penalties).

Since then, Crocker has led what sounds like a diligent search. He has talked about picking from “an unbelievably diverse pool of exciting candidates.”

But if this is the shortlist, searching for top candidates was the easy part. The hard part, it seems, is convincing them that the USWNT is still a top job — and/or deciding whether to accommodate the best of them by modifying the job description.

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