The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) appointed Southampton’s outgoing director of soccer operations, Matt Crocker, as its sporting director on Tuesday.
He will join on August 2, 2023, and will be succeeding Earnie Stewart, who left the office in February 2023 to join the Dutch side PSV Eindhoven as its technical director.
Crocker will be responsible for all the 27 teams under the Federation, including the youth teams, men’s and women’s soccer teams and will take office after leaving the Saints at the end of the season.
“I’m really honoured and excited to join US Soccer and I’m looking forward to building on the great work whose foundations have been laid,” he told reporters in a press conference.
The 44-year-old has been with Southampton in the last three seasons but is known primarily for his extensive work in youth development during his first stint with the club between 2006 to 2013.
Under Crocker, the then-academy manager, Southampton produced some of its best youth products such as Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain.
In 2013, he left the Saints to join the English Football Association, where he was responsible for grooming youth teams, the under-15s and under-17s, and played a pivotal role when the Three Lions beat Brazil to win the under-17 World Cup in 2017.
Immediate focus: Women’s World Cup 2023
Crocker arrives with just over three months left for the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 and will be expected to assist the USWNT, the defending World Champion, in a limited capacity as he will join in the middle of the tournament.
Cindy Parlow Cone, the USSF President and a former World Cup winner with the USWNT, said that it was the Welshman’s proven experience in ‘developing talent’ that made him the frontrunner in the race for the position.
“After spending some time with Matt (Crocker), it became clear that he excels in communication and team building… His passion for the game and expertise will make US soccer better,” Cidy said.
Under Crocker, the women’s teams – both at Southampton and the Lionesses – have flourished.
While the former has earned successive promotions (from FA Women’s National League Division 1 South West to FA Women’s Championship) in his two years in charge, the Lionesses have seen stars Leah Williamson, Ella Toone and Lauren Hemp emerge through the youth system.
However, an obvious fear that remains on his arrival would be the pressure on how he performs, given his most recent performance in the Premier League.
Southampton, which has played in the Premier League since 2012, saw a change in ownership in October last year and has gone downward since. It has been under the charge of three managers within a year, and sits on the brink of relegation at the bottom of the league.
While Crocker’s arrival is a new dawn in U.S. Soccer, the above not-so-impressive spell is set to keep the team cautious as it gets ready for a busy 2023 ahead.
Next task: Get a USMNT head coach
The appointment of a sporting director is the first step for the USSF as it creates a roadmap for the FIFA World Cup at home in 2026.
Crocker will be expected to finalise the head coach for the US men’s soccer team ahead of the CONCACAF Nations League and then the Gold Cup.
While former head coach Greg Berhalter has been exonerated by the USSF, the controversy of admitting to having kicked his future wife in 1991 keeps him out of the race.
Fellow American and former Leeds United manager Jesse Marsch – who was close to joining Southampton in February under Crocker – is reportedly one of the frontrunners in the race.
“We want to get a head coach, and the right head coach as soon as possible but what we don’t want to do is rush and make the wrong appointment,” Crocker said.
He added that the coach will be selected on the basis of a specific skill set, starting with ‘behaviour’ – to continue building the team into an aggressive and fearless side. A leader who understands the American style of play, continued by Berhalter and Anthony Hudson, the current head coach.
“Coaching internationally is very different to working every day on the field with a club. Making sure things like collaboration and cooperation around player release is going to be fundamental,” he said.
The USSF will hope to see Crocker work his magic the same way as he did at St. Mary’s and in England, developing players such as Bale, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham.
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