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Soccer! U.S. men's team is feeling young again

Soccer! U.S. men's team is feeling young again
Tim Weah, left, and Josh Sargent celebrate after a goal by Sargent in the second half against Bolivia in May. (Mitchell Leff / Getty Images)

Hello and welcome to the third weekly installment of the L.A. Times soccer newsletter. I’m Kevin Baxter and I write about all kinds of soccer for the newspaper, but today we’re going to start with the U.S. national team.

The last year wasn’t a good for our intrepid warriors. First they lost to Trinidad and Tobago — seriously — in their final World Cup qualifier, which caused the U.S. to miss the tournament for the first time since 1986. Days after that Bruce Arena resigned, ending his second term as U.S. manager, and just last month Clint Dempsey, who shares the team’s all-time goal-scoring record with Landon Donovan, retired.

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All that has ushered in a period of reflection and renovation that is beginning to show results in some places, but not in others. Let’s start with the renovation part.

Even before the loss in Trinidad — Tobago really wasn’t involved — Arena had decided the U.S. roster needed new blood, a rebuilding he had begun in the previous Gold Cup and one he would have continued leading up to the World Cup. After the loss Arena stepped aside and Dave Sarachan — Arena’s longtime lieutenant but an outstanding coach in his own right — was given the job, albeit on an interim basis.

Sarachan’s contract has been extended at least twice since then but the “interim” tag had not been removed. Asked about that Monday, before starting training with a 24-man team called up for September friendlies with Brazil and Mexico, Sarachan refused to criticize those who have repeatedly asked him to continue doing a job they won’t offer him permanently.

“I don’t think about that,” he said. “Yeah, I get it. My wife asks me all the time what my future is going to be. But I look at it day by day and just [keep] doing my job and enjoying the role.”

And he’s done well at his job of restocking the U.S. talent pool. In his 10 months in charge, Sarachan has given senior national team debuts to 18 players; 10 of them are age-eligible for the 2020 Olympics. The average age of the roster he called up Monday was 23, and 16 of those players have seven or fewer international caps.

Among the players in camp — the first official camp of the 2022 World Cup cycle — are Tim Weah, 18, Tyler Adams, 19, and Cameron Carter-Vickers and Weston McKennie, both 20. Josh Sargent, 18, who earned his first cap and scored his first international goal earlier this year, was left off the roster because he is transitioning to a new club in Germany. Christian Pulisic, 19, is injured.

“My instincts have told me to look forward and start to vet some of these prospects that we think have a future,” Sarachan said. “So far since I’ve been doing it, it’s been an honor and the group has responded.”

U.S. Soccer has not. The federation has dragged its feet on naming a permanent replacement for Arena — and not without reason. There was no rush to hire a new manager before the World Cup since it was obvious that, post-tournament, a number of quality coaches would suddenly be in the market for a new job.

There was also the election for a federation president. When Sunil Gulati decided not to run again, any thought of interviewing or hiring a new coach was tabled. Then after Carlos Cordeiro won the February vote, he turned his attention to the successful campaign to secure the rights to host the 2026 World Cup alongside Canada and Mexico.

It was in the midst of all that that the federation punted its coaching decision down the road, extending Sarachan’s contract through the end of the year.

But now with the World Cup secure and with Earnie Stewart, Cordeiro’s choice for the newly created job of general manager of the men’s national team, in place, it’s hard to justify the continued delay.

Meanwhile one candidate crossed himself off the list Monday when Juan Carlos Osorio, who guided Mexico to the round of 16 in Russia, was named Paraguay’s new coach.

Osorio, a former MLS coach who leaves Mexico having compiled the best winning percentage of any manager in national team history, was not shy about expressing his desire for the U.S. job. Whether that interest was reciprocated is not known.

What is certain is that he is no longer available, and that increases the pressure on Stewart, a Dutch-born midfielder who played in three World Cups for the U.S. before becoming a club official in the Netherlands and with the Philadelphia Union of MLS.

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He filed off the U.S. team bus Monday at the New York Red Bulls’ training complex in Whippany, N.J., eventually making his way to the top bench of some small aluminum bleachers, where he sat alone with his thoughts, watching Sarachan audition and drill the core of the next U.S. national team.

In six games as interim manager Sarachan has lost just once and held France to a tie in that team’s final tune-up before a World Cup it would win. (In that draw Sarachan’s team led France for 34 minutes before Kylian Mbappe scored the tying goal. That’s the longest any team has led France since June 2016.)

Has Sarachan done enough to get the job? Probably. Does he have everything Stewart and the federation are looking for? That depends on whom you ask — and don’t ask Stewart because he’s not talking.

But this much is certain: With each passing day the “interim” coach is building rapport, earning trust and instilling his philosophy as he molds those young, talented hearts and minds. He’s busy building a solid foundation for whoever takes over and that would appear to be more than enough reason for him to be part of that conversation.

And now for something completely different….

Last week was a lost one for the Galaxy, who gave up a franchise-record six goals to Real Salt Lake in a loss that severely wounded their fading postseason hopes. The team is now winless since July 29, an 0-3-3 streak in which they have been outscored 18-7, dropping to eighth in a Western Conference playoff race that will see just six teams advance.

But while the Galaxy haven’t been able to step up on the field, they did off it with the team and many of its fans rallying to the aid of a longtime fan in England most of them have never met.

Danny Chapman, 36, the night manager for a hotel in Sussex, in the southeastern part of the island, has been a Galaxy fan since July 1996, when he was smitten while watching the team play the Tampa Bay Mutiny during a family vacation in Florida. (The Galaxy lost the game despite a Cobi Jones hat trick.)

Chapman — who says he took the overnight shift at the hotel partly because it allows him to watch Galaxy games live on TV — manages a lively Twitter feed called Galaxy History, which celebrates the team’s accomplishments. He occasionally wears a Galaxy jersey to English Premier League games, something he said has become more fashionable since David Beckham’s time with the team.

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But last month he tweeted another piece of news: His grandfather John Funnell, a Royal Air Force veteran, had passed away and the family needed £1,000 — nearly $1,300 — to have him interred with his RAF buddies. Chapman, the married father of two young boys, didn’t ask for donations, just that Galaxy fans consider retweeting his GoFundMe page.

“He had been hiding Alzheimer’s for a couple of years and had let his finances get into a mess,” Chapman said of his grandfather, who didn’t leave enough to buy a burial plot.

But the team and its supporters came to the rescue, sending more than $1,600. Much of that came in small contributions but Galaxy president Chris Klein sent £100, about $129, as did the LA Riot Squad, one of the club’s main supporter groups. Former player Mike Magee also sent £100 — and Chapman immediately saluted him with an online video montage of some of Magee’s goals from the 2013 season, when he was named the league’s MVP.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Chapman said. “Not only that they raised the money but that they did it in 36 hours. I’ve never met any of them in person but they went above and beyond for me. It’s made me feel part of the family even if there’s an ocean between us.”

Chapman said his grandfather’s funeral was scheduled for Wednesday and with the extra money that was donated he would buy an RAF wreath. He also plans to share photos of the ceremony with his faraway family on the Galaxy History Twitter page.

Podcast

Don’t miss my weekly podcast on the Corner of the Galaxy site as co-host Josh Guesman and I discuss the Galaxy each Monday. You can listen to the most recent podcast here.

Schedules

All times Pacific

LAFC

Saturday at Toronto, 5 p.m., YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46

Sept. 15 vs. New England, 7:30 p.m., YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46

Sept. 22 vs. San Jose, 12:30 p.m., Univision

Sept. 29 at Chicago, 12:30 p.m., Univision

Oct. 6 at Colorado, 6 p.m., YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46

Oct. 18 vs. Houston, 7 p.m., YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46

Oct. 21 vs. Vancouver, 2 p.m., YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46

Oct. 28 at Sporting Kansas City, YouTube TV, Unimas KFTR 46

Galaxy

Saturday at Real Salt Lake, 7 p.m., Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes

Sept. 15 at Toronto, 4:30 p.m., Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes

Sept. 23 vs. Seattle, 4 p.m. FS1

Sept. 29 vs. Vancouver, 7 p.m., Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes

Oct. 6 at Sporting Kansas City, 5:30 p.m., Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes

Oct. 21 at Minnesota, TBD, Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes

Oct. 28 vs. Houston, 1:30 p.m., Spectrum SN, Spectrum Deportes

Until next time

Stay tuned for future newsletters. Subscribe here, and I'll come right to your inbox. Something else you'd like to see? Email me. Or follow me on Twitter @kbaxter11

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