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Carlos Queiroz was hired to fix American soccer. Now he could oust the United States from World Cup

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DOHA, Qatar. The 69-year-old world-traveling polyglot who will try to beat the US men’s team at the 2022 World Cup on Tuesday once tried to fix American football for a whole year.

Carlos Queiroz has coached on five continents, four world championships and some of the biggest clubs in the world. Now he is the mastermind behind an Iranian team obsessed with sending Americans home from Qatar ahead of schedule.

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But in 1998, he lived in a condominium on the second floor of Tampa, which caught fire one day. He spent a year traveling the United States on commercial flights, talking to hundreds of coaches and players at all levels of the sport. He was hired by US Soccer to diagnose his illnesses and explain how he could win the men’s world championship by 2010. do.

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In his final report, entitled “Project 2010”, US Soccer’s goal was compared to the Apollo 11 moon landing. Its cover featured an astronaut holding the American flag in one hand and the Men’s World Cup Cup in the other. Queiroz wrote it with his Portuguese-American goaltending coach Dan Gaspar, who remembers working “at a crazy pace”. One memorable night, around midnight, Queiroz asked Gaspar, whom he calls “Danny”, to sit down. He then paced around the Tampa apartment for three hours, urging Gaspard to “make sacrifices in order to participate in a profitable business.”

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Together, over 113 pages, they outlined recommendations for reforming the player development system that many felt was “broken”. Their proposals led to the creation of the US Soccer U-17 residency program, the forerunner of the revised nationwide system that exists today. “I think the report has served as a basis for a number of things that have been implemented,” Gaspar says of the 2010 Project. Queiroz notes at a press conference on Monday that it “helps[ed] football in the United States to grow up.”

But Gaspard’s main takeaway was not the impact of the report; this was a charming man he met along the way, who is currently devising a plan to strangle the US men’s national team.

“This is his level of intensity. It’s his attention to detail,” Gaspar says of Queiroz. “This is his standard of professionalism. It is his obsession every second, every minute, every hour, every day, every week, every month of the year, to win in any project he is involved in.”

Carlos Queiroz was tasked with developing a plan to fix American football.  Result: Project 2010.
Carlos Queiroz was tasked with developing a plan to fix American football. Result: Project 2010.

Project 2010

Queiroz’s tortuous career, starting as a young player in colonial-era Portuguese Mozambique, first came to the attention of American football officials in the late 1980s and early 90s when he coached Portugal to win the Under-20 World Cup in a row. . He developed a relationship with Francis Marka longtime Portuguese-American football executive, and with Sunil Gulati who would eventually serve as vice president and president of US Soccer for two decades.

However, his connection with Gaspar was due to an incredibly random coincidence. Queiroz took charge of the Portuguese national team in 1991. The following year, he led his team to a four-country tournament organized by US Soccer, specifically in Connecticut, where Gaspard, a Portuguese-American who ran goaltending camps, lived.

When Gaspard found out about their visit to the game at Yale, he contacted the Portuguese club of Hartford, Connecticut and arranged for their admission. He struck up a friendship and professional relationship with Queiroz. After deep conversations about goalkeepers, he grabbed Queiroz like a right hand.

They grew up together at Sporting CP in Lisbon and then at the MetroStars in New York/New Jersey in the inaugural season of Major League Soccer. Less than a year later, they left Jersey for Japan, which is where they were when Gulati and then US Soccer president Alan Rothenberg decided to pursue the overly ambitious goal of winning the men’s world championship in Rothenberg’s lifetime.

US Soccer, says Gulati, “wanted an outsider to look at the landscape of the United States and tell us where we could do better.” He remembers appreciating Queiroz’s success at youth level as well as his multilingualism. He flew to Japan for a personal meeting with Queiroz and persuaded him to return to the US as a “technical consultant”.

There were rumors at the time, perhaps even speculation, that US Soccer hired Queiroz with the goal of eventually promoting him to USMNT head coach. But all he wanted for many months in 1998 was to work on the task before him. He traveled and flew to training camps and congresses, to FIFA matches and meetings and symposiums. He has interviewed everyone from Bruce Arena to administrators and sportswriters. He lived mostly in hotels, initially two rooms with Gaspar, who urged US Soccer management to better accommodate Queiroz. However, Queiroz “did not make demands,” Gaspard says.

After several months of travel and study, they sat down to watch the 1998 World Cup games during the day and write “Project 2010” at night. “My dear friends,” Queiroz wrote on page 6, “as Americans, you live in a country rich in human resources and unlimited potential, where hopes and dreams often come true. In the years leading up to 2010, you are well positioned to create the infrastructure to create an environment in which sport can develop in a meaningful way.”

But he also warned them, “As you read the report, please don’t be offended by my frank remarks.”

On occasion, he and Gaspard spoke directly about the structural flaws of the elite player path. After a few edits, they printed the final product. Gaspar traveled to New York to deliver the first paper copy to Gulati.

“We didn’t want this document to become a bible,” Gaspard recalls, “but it became a long-awaited “dynamic guide.”

“It wasn’t supposed to be a recipe book,” Gulati said of the original mandate, “but that’s what [Queiroz] laid out – a bunch of software stuff that we could do.”

Unrealistic US expectations

The final report supported US Soccer’s unrealistic ambitions of achieving World Cup glory by 2010, but mostly contained criticisms and an 11-point incremental improvement plan.

“What surprised me the most [1998] The World Cup was an illusion about how good the US team is,” Queiroz wrote. “These illusions exposed a naivety that made it impossible to see how far the US team would have to go before it was ready to compete with the rest of the world in really big competitions.”

Queiroz mainly targeted youth football. “In my country of Portugal, there is a saying: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” he wrote. “But that’s exactly what the United States is doing when it invests time, energy and money in the preparation of youth teams, but does nothing to improve the competitive system that ensures the development of players.”

He almost begged US Soccer to reconsider its obsession with national team performance and prioritize the lower levels of the pyramid.

“If I am suffering from an illness, I may take medicine to relieve the pain, but this does not necessarily mean that I will be free from the illness,” he wrote by analogy. “Similarly, the US may have a good record at the World Cup, but it may not be the best indicator of whether we are moving in the right direction at all levels at home.”

He and Gaspard then sketched out their “Plan for Success”. They proposed a restructuring of teen competitions, including interstate competitions and a national under-19 league. They touched on scouting, infrastructure and coaching education, as well as many other areas that have since become a priority for US Soccer, and then MLS.

“I sincerely hope that God will illuminate my ideas so that they are understandable and useful as you strive for success in football in the USA,” Queiroz wrote in conclusion. “I wish you success in football, I remain a friend for life.”

Players throw Iranian head coach Carlos Queiroz into the air as they celebrate victory in the World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Friday, November 25.  2022 (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)
Players toss Iranian head coach Carlos Queiroz into the air as they celebrate victory in the World Cup Group B football match between Wales and Iran at the Ahmad bin Ali Stadium in Al Rayyan, Qatar, Friday, November 25, 2022. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Friend becomes enemy

Nearly a quarter of a century after he wrote these words, after stops at Manchester United and Real Madrid, as well as international teams from Portugal, South Africa, Colombia and Egypt, Queiroz’s American ties will close.

He led Iran to the 2014 and 2018 World Cups before returning in 2022 to stabilize a team in chaos. He inspired his players to a dramatic victory over Wales on Friday that propelled them to second place in Group B. They only need a draw against the US on Tuesday to take the lead and eliminate the Americans, while the US needs a win to move on.

“Tomorrow is going to be a very special game for us,” Queiroz said on Monday. But then he remarked: “For me, this is also very, very, very special.”

He raved about the American team, which may have been helped indirectly by his 24-year referrals. He named them the top team in Group B at the end of two games. He said they “jumped from football to football”, to “modern football”. Referring to his time at US Soccer, he said that the current USMNT is “a different football team from the one in the United States that I saw and met at the very beginning.”

“So,” he continued, “we want to play with full respect [on Tuesday]”.

“But with a strong desire to get a result to go to the second round.”


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