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U.S. Soccer hires Raphael Wicky as the head coach of the U-17 team

U.S. Soccer today named Raphael Wicky as the head coach of the United States U-17 team. On paper it is an impressive hire although the former Basel head coach and Swiss national team World Cup veteran will not have much time to prepare his team for CONCACAF's World Cup qualifying which starts on May 1. 
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
March 07, 2019
12:00 PM
THE UNITED STATES U-17 national team finally has a coach as U.S. Soccer has hired former Swiss international Raphael Wicky to lead the young team into World Cup qualifying and, if successful, the World Cup later this year.

As a defensive midfielder, Wicky had 71 caps for Switzerland and played in the 2006 World Cup in Germany. He also had an impressive career that saw him as a regular Sion, Werder Bremen, Atletico Madrid, and Hamburg. He would later conclude his career with one season at Chivas USA.

After his stint at Chivas USA, Wicky immediately transitioned into coaching where he coached the youth teams at FC Thun, Servette, and then Basel. He was the first team coach at FC Basel during 2017/18. During his time as a youth coach he led U-18 team of Basel to the 2015 Swiss Cup and a runner up finish in 2016. He then guided Basel’s U-19 team to the UEFA Youth League Round of 16 and the U-21 sqaud to a top finish in the Swiss third division.

When he coached the first team in 2017/18, the team finished in second place in the Swiss Super League and also coached in Champions League games where the club advanced out of the group stages and into the knockouts before being eliminated by Pep Guardiola's Manchester City. 

"I've been following U.S. Soccer for more than 10 years now very closely since I played at Chivas USA and I've gotten to know the league," Wicky said. "It's an exciting moment to come to U.S. Soccer, with the new MNT head coach Gregg Berhalter, with Earnie Stewart as a new GM. As a coach, it excites me to be a part of the process and working to help players grow."

The United States U-17 head coaching job has been vacant since last summer when John Hackworth left to takeover Louisville City FC. Since then, it has been handled by rotational interim coaches such as Shaun Tsakiris and Dave Van den Bergh. For Wicky, the position became even more interesting when he had discussions with new U.S. national team manager Gregg Berhalter. 

"From the beginning of our conversation, we immediately started talking about tactics, about ideas, about principles, about how we see the game and I think we share similar ideas of soccer," Wicky said. "I wasn't really surprised because I followed his team playing in Columbus over the last few years, so I saw the soccer he plays, I saw how he wants to build up from the back and I like that style because I share similar visions."

Wicky does have personal ties to the United States as his wife is American and the two met in late 2016 and celebrated their wedding in her native Southern California this past December. He has regularly returned to the United States over the past decade while coaching in Europe. 

Retired American forward Alecko Eskandarian was teammates wtih Wicky at Chivas USA and the two remained in contact ever since. Eskandarian, who had extensive experience on U.S. youth national teams, is optimistic on Wicky's hire.

"Rapha and I were teammates in 2007 and have remained in touch since then," Eskandarian said. "It was great to see his rise in the coaching ranks with FC Basel, and lead his club in Champions League. As a player in MLS, he always expressed great pride in being part of a growing league and his admiration for the American culture. Throughout the years he has frequently come back to the US in the offseason, and I am delighted for him to return again for this opportunity."

"Rapha has a fantastic soccer mind and will bring a wealth of knowledge to pass down to the youth," Eskandarian added. "His playing experience in Germany, Spain, and MLS and his great work ethic will help him make an immediate impression. I’m excited for what the future holds for him."

Current Philadelphia Union head coach Jim Curtin is also close with Wicky and was also part of the Chivas USA team. When Wicky was the head coach of Basel, Curtin traveled to Switzerland to visit him and see how he coached. Wicky also recently spent time in Philadelphia to watch Curtin and the Union players train. Curtin was always impressed with Wicky's desire to get involved with soccer in the United States. 

"I am close with Rapha," Curtin said. "I actually went to Basel and spent about 10 days there last offseason. I spent a lot of time with Rapha and saw how he worked. He is incredible with his players and the amount of players he produced and promoted from within the academy who would then get sold for 20 or 30 million Euros to big clubs in Europe - he's a great talent developer. I spent a lot of time and a lot of meals with him and I saw him as a guy with a real interest in U.S. Soccer, in MLS in particular. He was even asking me: 'Jim, are there any USL jobs open?' And this is a guy who was in the Champions League and literally preparing for Man City when I was there."

This job will be challenging for Wicky who will not have a lot of time to get to know his team or build it up for the U-17 CONCACAF Championships – which serve as the region’s qualifying tournament for the U-17 World Cup. In April, there will be a U-17 camp and it will be the team's only camp prior to the start of the CONCACAF Championship.

"The first step is to get to know the players better. I’ve been watching a lot of video, a lot of different games, then I’ll be able to meet them at the beginning of April at our first training camp," said Wicky. "Then it’s to set common goals and to start working together. It’s short, it’s challenging, but I’m looking forward to the challenge. I think the goal of a National Team coach is to get everyone on the same page. They’re all playing for different clubs, in different systems with different principles, so when they come to the National Team you have to make sure that everybody is going in the same direction. I’m in communication daily with people from U.S. Soccer, and every day I get more information and more contacts with clubs." 

That tournament will open on May 1 in Bradenton, Florida and the United States will play its first game against Canada on May 2 (followed by Barbados on May 4 and Guatemala on May 6). The top three teams advance to round of 16 knockout stages. The winners of the quarterfinal games advance to the World Cup in October. That tournament was originally scheduled to take place in Peru but FIFA decided to relocated the tournament and the rumor is that it will now take place in Brazil.

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