Afternoon kickaround: Onyewu takes big U.S. Soccer role, Open Cup talk, betting scandal its MLS
May 11, 2023
WEDNESDAY BROUGHT a lot of news into the American soccer world. Separately, we covered the release of the U.S. U-20 World Cup roster, but there is a lot of other news to break down and offer up some thoughts.
Some of it was big, some of it was ugly, but let’s start with U.S. Soccer.
Onyewu hired as VP of Sporting
Former U.S. national team defender Oguchi Onyewu was hired to be the Vice President of Sporting for U.S. Soccer. It’s a newly created position that does not replace the USMNT GM position that is vacant and most recently held by Brian McBride, but it does have some overlap.
For example, Onyewu will have a prominent role in managing relationships with clubs/leagues in both the USA & across the world.
He will also assist new Sporting Director Matt Crocker in the hiring of the next U.S. national team coach. According to the press release, Onyewu will play a big part of that hire.
“With a wealth of international experience and a deep understanding of U.S. Soccer, Onyewu will be an instrumental part of the hiring process.”
Finally, Onyewu will have responsibilities in the funding of youth and extended national teams.
“Onyewu will also work closely with U.S. Soccer’s Development Department to help drive increased funding for Youth and Extended National Teams. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, U.S. Soccer receives no federal government funding to manage its National Teams programs, support hundreds of thousands of coaches and referees, and impact millions of players.”
While U.S. Soccer made it clear that this does not replace the GM position and whether that position will continue to exist is still being reviewed.
In his introductory interviews, Crocker did not come across as a revolutionary. The two previous Sporting Directors – Jurgen Klinsmann and Earnie Stewart – both came in to the job looking to make a lot of changes. Crocker seemed to express satisfaction with the status quo and was looking to build off that as opposed to knock down and rebuild from scratch.
But Crocker also came across that he saw the value in American talent and the federation's recent direction. But he is not American and perhaps the next USMNT coach won’t be either. But having a popular former U.S. national team player who has been gaining front office experience is a way to keep an American presence on the program in an important role. The image of a new sporting director coming into a foreign federation and making foreign hires could be a tough sell to those inside the program, outside the program, and to many fans.
If the program continues to have success in the coming cycle, Onyewu would then have a very strong resume to be the next Sporting Director. He was reportedly in contention this time but U.S. Soccer instead went with Crocker. If Crocker returns to England after his contract runs out and the federation is in a good spot, Onyewu would be a very strong candidate.
U.S. Open Cup
The 2023 U.S. Open Cup concluded its Round of 32 on Wednesday night.
MLS teams have had a very good tournament against lower-level opponents. Fans of “cupsets” have not been as thrilled with this year’s edition, so far, as MLS teams have a 22-3 record against teams from other domestic leagues.
The only teams that remain from outside MLS are the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, who defeated the New England Revolution on Tuesday night, and the Birmingham Legion who posted a 3-0 win over fellow USL Championship team Memphis 905 on Wednesday night. The remaining 14 teams come from MLS.
The highlight on Wedesday was the Columbus Crew convincing 5-1 road win over Loudoun United behind a goal and two assists from American forward Christian Ramirez.
U.S. national team forward Brandon Vazquez scored the only goal for Cincinnati's 1-0 over NYCFC. He is looking more and more dangerous as we enter the summer months.
As for the upcoming Round of 16, we get El Traffico which is always exciting. The Pittsburgh Riverhounds host Columbus while Biringham Legion host Charlotte in what is probably the most likely matchup for a USL team to make the quarterfinal.
Round of 16: May 23-24
- Austin FC vs. Chicago Fire FC
- Birmingham Legion FC vs. Charlotte FC
- Colorado Rapids vs. Real Salt Lake
- Inter Miami CF vs. Nashville SC
- Houston Dynamo FC vs. Minnesota United FC
- Los Angeles FC vs. LA Galaxy
- New York Red Bulls vs. FC Cincinnati
- Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC vs. Columbus Crew SC
Gambling scandal hits MLS
The big story on Wednesday was a how the investigation of an unlawful betting scandal that originated in Brazil has spread to MLS.
Brazil's publication O Globo said one of the culprits was Colorado's Max Alves who was signed by the Rapids as part of an U-22 initiative. The investigation is largely based in Brazil and Alaves is currently the only player outside of Brazil who is implicated. But Globo also indicated that Alaves referred former Houston Dynamo player Zeca to those who controlled the ring.
Alaves was shown to have been rewarded for picking up a yellow card minutes after being subbed into Colorado’s game against September 17, 2022. Alaves has been removed by Colorado for all activities pending the investigation by the league.
A statement from Major League Soccer. pic.twitter.com/7oZKKRqitV— MLS Communications (@MLS_PR) May 11, 2023
It's impossible to offer up any thoughts until the investigation is complete. But the league is taking immediate action and if it is shown that they acted swiftly and never tried to cover anything up, they should be fine. Hopefully, for all parties, it was limited strictly to Alaves and no other results or moments were compromised.