There are plenty of question marks in and around United States soccer right now but one of the few sure things – perhaps even an exclamation point – is Omid Namazi. He might be the next big name on the American soccer coaching scene.
Coach of the U-18 national team, Namazi has a strong track record of not just getting results but helping to develop the next generation of talent in this country. While getting wins and doing well in tournaments is an important part of Namazi’s job with the national team, most important is that he helps further along young talent and funnel them to the senior level.
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Something that, given the United States failure to qualify for next summer’s World Cup, will become increasingly important.
At 51-years old, Namazi is entering his prime. He has a fantastic record with the youth national team since taking over in January of 2016, running up a 12-3-2 (W-L-T) record with the U-18 group. He’s been influential in the growth of players such as Jonathan Gonzalez, the 18-year old American who is already starting in the midfield for Mexican club Monterrey.
New York Red Bulls Tyler Adams has also played for Namazi along with a number of promising young talents in MLS and Europe.
“The fact that our senior national team has failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup is no reflection of the good work that has been done over the last four-to-five years with our youth teams,” Namazi told Metro. “We were one of only two countries to reach the quarter-finals of the U-17 and U-20 World Cup, in the same year -the other being England which ended up capturing both titles.
“So that goes to show you that some excellent work has been done with our youth teams from our U-14 all the way up to our U-20 team. And now since the start of this year we have a youth national team for every age group for the first time. A lot of effort and money has been invested into the program and I really believe we will see the results in the next few years.”
Namazi’s depth and breadth of understanding when it comes to the American game is as deep as anyone in this country. He played college soccer and then in a variety of regional professional leagues as well as indoor soccer, culminating in a short loan with the then MetroStars in the fledgling year of MLS. He played for the United States futsal team (indoor soccer) and has coached at virtually every level of the sport in this country.
That he understands the myriad of layers in the United States is one thing but his success in developing players for the next level is intriguing.
He is catching the attention of MLS teams, with the New England Revolution reportedly having interviewed him a couple weeks back for their vacant head coaching position. Given his track record of success as well as experience working with young talent, Namazi would be a natural for any team looking to extend roots through their own academy pipeline into the first team.
Having worked with the full national team as well as the U-20 national team as an assistant, Namazi calls an MLS possibility “something to consider.”
But for now, he’s focused on the task at hand. Despite the setback with the senior team and next summer’s World Cup, the youth ranks in the United States are busting at the seams with talent. The U-17 national team and the U-20 national team both made the quarterfinals of their respective World Cups this year, a sign perhaps that things are ready to improve sooner rather than later.
“The challenge is finding the right balance between wanting to win every game or still trying to develop the players in terms of their tactical acumen and ability to read the game. Another challenge is as to how wide of a pool of players you use throughout the cycle. My approach has been to evaluate as many players as possible in the two-year cycle, and to see which ones are cut out for the next level, and that is being able to compete at the international level and more importantly some of the better teams in the world. In the cycle that just ended with the ‘99 birth year group, we saw upwards of 90 players, and every single one of those players saw considerable minutes in meaningful games against strong opponents,” Namazi said.
“Now I have a good idea who those 30-40 players are at the top of the depth chart that I will pass on to Tab Ramos who will be taking them for the U-20 team. Our idea is to identify those who besides being good technical players, they also read the game well, make good decisions for the most part and also are mentally tough and ready to compete for 90+ minutes every time they step on the field.”