Gonzalo Segares has been named the new head coach of the U-17 Men’s National Team, U.S. Soccer announced Monday. Segares, a Costa Rican left back, played over 250 games for the Chicago Fire in MLS from 2005 to 2014. He also amassed 19 caps for Costa Rica during that time. Segares retired from play following the 2014 MLS season, and immediately joined Chicago’s technical staff as an academy coach. His time with the Fire academy didn’t last long, as he moved to fellow Chicago academy FC United in 2016. He would stay with FC United until January 2020, when he was hired as the US U-15 BNT head coach. Segares holds a U.S. Soccer “A” coaching license.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to take over the U-17 Men’s National Team.” said Segares. “It’s been an honor to be a part of U.S. Soccer, working with the best players in the country at their age group and learning from Gregg and his staff. Players on the U-17 MNT are at a critical point in their careers. I’m excited to help them reach new heights as we prepare them for international competition.”
USMNT GM Brian McBride weighed in, as well: “The U-17 age group represents a critical stage of development for our young prospects and we’re pleased to have Gonzalo lead the team. Since he joined us in January 2020, we’ve been impressed by his work with our USMNT program. He’s grown as a coach during this difficult pandemic period and he has what it takes to be a great leader for this important team, helping young players take the next step in their careers.”
U.S. Soccer’s announcement included the fact that a U-17 MNT training camp will take place from Nov. 1-8 in Chula Vista. Look for an upcoming piece to dive into that U-17 player pool in detail.
At first glance, it would seem like a positive that Segares is being bumped up from the U-15s to the U-17s, because he should be more familiar than anyone else with the players who make up the current U-17 pool, after spending the past 21 months as the U-15 head coach. As far as the author can tell, however, there has been only one U-15 camp in that time, in the first week of March 2020, prior to COVID-19 lockdowns. That camp included 36 players, all born in 2005, which makes them too old to participate in the 2023 U-17 World Cup. So while Segares may have communicated with the players available to him, watched their film, and scouted them in person, he has not conducted a single in-person camp with any of them.
Another interesting note is that Segares is assumed to be a fluent Spanish speaker, which aids communication with a diverse player pool. US Soccer has a checkered history with the Spanish language (and Latino fans and players), including former YNT Hugo Perez being told not to speak Spanish to Latino players. Another example was Tata Martino not being contacted by U.S. Soccer (additional source), even though he later revealed he wanted the job, combined with the fact US Soccer sporting director Earnie Stewart said speaking English was a requirement for a US manager. Hopefully Segares’ hiring and promotion are signs that USSF is more comfortable with Spanish and with coaches using Spanish on a daily basis as helpful for communicating with players and coaching staff.
"Speaking for the first time publicly on the topic, (Hugo Perez) said he was told more than once not to speak Spanish to Latino players, and that his continued use of Spanish on the field may have contributed to him being let go." https://t.co/GHiYD4cK5o— scuffed (@scuffedpod) October 21, 2019
Coaching vacancies and the Chicago mandate
It has been reported for over two and a half years that U.S. Soccer’s requirement for coaches to live in Chicago has been a stumbling block to hiring YNT coaches, a policy Earnie Stewart has been forced to defend. With Segares’ move from U-15s to U-17s, the men’s national team now has no coach for the U-23, U-20, U-19, U-18, U-16, or U-15 levels. Segares is the only coach at any level for the men’s YNT, following Jason Kreis’ unheralded departure after the Olympic qualifying failure in March, and Anthony Hudson being added to Gregg Berhalter’s MNT staff from his U-20 head coach position.
It’s important to note that Segares was based in Chicago in his time with FC United before U.S. Soccer ever hired him. It seems fair to ask, will U.S. Soccer only be able to hire coaches that already live in the Windy City?
Ironically, at the time the U.S. failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, in October 2017, every team from U-15 to U-20 had a full-time head coach in place (see list below). Some would argue that the youth national team structure played a vital role in developing some of the top players in the USMNT today, and it’s hard to disagree.
However, after the qualifying failure, the U.S. youth national teams instituted a hiring freeze until at least August 2018. Earnie Stewart was hired as GM in June 2018, the Chicago mandate followed, and the men’s YNT has had multiple coaching vacancies ever since.
U23: Andi Herzog (2015-2016)
U20: Tab Ramos (2011-2019)
U19: Brad Friedel (2016-2017)
U18: Omid Namazi (2016-2018)
U17: John Hackworth (2015-2018)
U16: Shaun Tsakiris (2016-2018)
U15: Dave van den Bergh (2016-2018)