While much is made of the senior national team results in any nation, some of the more influential spots actually fall at the Youth National Team levels. These coaches are setting the tone for players coming through, trying to morph young talents into a machine that can fire together when they come together a few times a year.
The United States of America has hired Anthony Hudson as its manager of the U-20 team, a critical age group. He replaces legendary US soccer star Tab Ramos, who has taken the head spot at MLS franchise Houston Dynamo.
At the surface level, folks may say, “Well, what’s the big deal, we hired a guy to replace a guy.” The issue here is that Hudson’s track record is mediocre at best. His most recent stop, with Colorado Rapids of MLS, was a bust. 8-26-9, during his tenure—Given, Colorado was a bottom dweller in the investment category from owner Stan Kroenke(Does Stan even know he owns them at this point?), but Conor Casey took over and brought respectable results after Hudson’s departure.
While at Colorado, Hudson proved to be a questionable man-manager, and his tactics produced stale football. He was handcuffed by a lack of investment from the ownership group, as mentioned above, and the end of his tenure came after a very public but very honest critique of the situation. In summation, Hudson told the media that his team was incapable of winning because they had bottom tier talent which could only produce bottom tier results, lacked investment in Designated Players who could make a difference outside the salary cap restrictions and also added in that the league had a growing disparity of haves and have nots, in spite of its cap structure. Hudson, who was on thin ice already, was promptly terminated after his comments and a 0-7-2 start to the 2019 season.
Anthony Hudson also made reference to a CONCACAF Champions League match with Colorado as “preseason” and brushed off its importance at a time when the league is attempting to see its franchises make the tournament, specifically when up against Mexican opponents, a priority.
Prior to landing in Colorado, Hudson was the manager of the New Zealand National Team. His tenure as the manager of the All Whites was hailed for bringing a professional mindset to a nation that has struggled to establish its players at professional levels. The issue during his tenure was the off-field decision making. He kept a very tight national team pool, took few chances on emerging Kiwi talent and got the strategy and, more importantly, the roster all wrong in the final hurdle of World Cup Qualifying for 2018.
Hudson had a very public row with star center back Tommy Smith, who at the time was a rock-solid starter for Ipswich Town in the Championship. Smith missed a deadline for a camp call from Hudson while he was negotiating a new contract with his club, prompting Hudson to state to the media that he had questions regarding Smith’s commitment to the All Whites(Remember, the clubs are where the players make their living wage, not the national team) and also added that he would no longer consider Smith for a call-up.
Smith claimed it was his fault that it happened and took the public hit, but Hudson, for me, was the one wearing egg. A national team that plays only 3 or 4 matches a year because of its distance from the world, and from all of its national team players that aren’t playing in the A-League has very little leg to stand on when it confronts one of its star players for missing a camp. For the record, Smith played the OFC Cup in the Solomon Islands prior to this row when almost all of the other star Kiwis pulled out. It was not a good look for Hudson to criticize one of his biggest stars, and one of only four professional-grade center backs the national team pool had at the time—The others being Winston Reid of West Ham, Michael Boxall of Minnesota in MLS and Andrew Durante of Wellington Phoenix.
The pair kissed and made up, and Smith was right in the mix for the 2018 World Cup Qualifying run and even joined Anthony Hudson in Colorado, but that row is a blemish on the record for Hudson.
It is also worth questioning Hudson’s roster selection. While New Zealand had a very thin player pool at the time—A pool which has since grown exponentially and is now deeper and more talented than ever before—Hudson did not find any ways to give chances for depth to be found. Young players who should have been bled were not given a chance (Sound like something the United States hasn’t done since Berhalter got the job after missing the World Cup?)…Hudson’s biggest swing and miss was Tyler Boyd, who has since committed to the United States. Hudson’s inability to win a European based, All Whites eligible prospect for the senior team while he was in his early 20s has to go down as one of the biggest losses in All Whites history. Is Boyd world-class? He’s no Ronaldo, but the All Whites would have been fortunate to have him in the attacking and wing midfield roles along with Marco Rojas, Ryan Thomas, Kosta Barbarouses, and Clayton Lewis.
Further along, as the All Whites were preparing to face Peru in a two-legged tie for one of the final spots at Russia 2018, Hudson made perhaps his greatest folly as manager of the Kiwis. In preparing to face a Peruvian side that would throw everything, including the kitchen sink, at the All Whites midfielders and defenders, Anthony Hudson called in five strikers.
Five strikers in a formation that would only start one—Premier League striker Chris Wood. The other strikers that were brought in were all head-scratching, save Jeremy Brockie, who was playing regularly in the South African Premier League, one of the better leagues in Africa. Youngster Monty Patterson was just coming out of the Ipswich academy but was entirely unproven. Shane Smeltz and Rory Fallon were at the tail end of their storied careers. On their day, Smeltz and Fallon could play at a high level, but by 2017 were mere shells of their former selves. Smeltz was ending a tour with the Wellington Phoenix, and Fallon was wallowing down in the 7th tier of English football and hadn’t found regular form in years.
Hudson went all in up top when he didn’t have the tools. Rather than dump Patterson, Fallon, and Smeltz and call in three players who could shore up the middle of the park, he doubled down on attackers, even though his formation didn’t call for it. There were some options that could have brought far more value, even if just as “fresh legs” off the bench in midfield: Experienced midfielder Chris James, who was still of prime-age and had All Whites experience and bouncing about Europe; Jai Ingham, who had been playing in Australia for power club Melbourne Victory; among other prospects that have since found their way into the All Whites player pool. There was 23-year-old defender Nikko Boxall(younger brother of All Whites star Michael) who had a fine season in Finland wrapping up around the time of the World Cup playoff and could have been an extra body in the backline. Don’t forget the Tyler Boyd situation.
I criticized Hudson’s folly on the Corner Kick USA TV show in Allentown during the World Cup Qualifying preview show prior to the playoff, and his lack of midfield depth and legs came back to bite him in the second leg. With Wood injured, rather than deploy Brockie up top and make sure his midfield was shored up, he changed his format to a 5-3-2, and Peru eventually picked them apart. Tired legs showed early in the second leg in Lima. A 0-0 draw in Wellington a few days prior had required a massive work rate from the midfielders for New Zealand, and it took its toll.
Hudson has found some successes in his career, specifically with Bahrain. He brought their national team program to a higher level prior to taking the All Whites job, but his slip up at the finish line with New Zealand, followed by his disastrous tenure in Colorado, leave a bad taste in the mouth for US Fans.
The question now is this: What did Earnie Stewart and the rest of the USSF Management Team see in Hudson that prompted them to hire him? His track record is barely mediocre at best. His roster selection was questionable in a big situation for New Zealand. His run in MLS was an absolute disaster. Stewart and Senior National Team manager Gregg Berhalter have been fairly oblivious to the issues that are facing the US set up over the last year and a half. Dare we say a bit arrogant? For two guys who played at the highest levels of the European game, one would think they’d “know better.”
What this group saw in Anthony Hudson, we may never know. A man who couldn’t figure out Colorado in any way, a man who couldn’t pick the proper roster for the All Whites, is now in charge of two of the biggest prospects the US has: 18-year-olds Konrad De La Fuente(Barcelona) and Indiana Vassilev(Aston Villa). This U-20 group, perhaps the most essential in preparing players for a senior national team future, is now in the hands of Anthony Hudson. A huge crop of players who are 18 and 19 years old, based at major European clubs, now have to gather under the guidance of a manager who’s last two stops were filled with player issues and poor player selection(NZ) and simply awful on-field results(Colorado).
The response from most of the US Soccer realm has been less than satisfied with this hire for many of the same reasons. The USSF has already deflated the hopes of most fans, and this just drives a further wedge between the leadership and everyone else, including some major soccer media and former US star players. We have to demand better…Our players deserve better.
Tommy Smith: Denver Post
Anthony Hudson: MLS Soccer