On Tuesday, May 30, U.S. Soccer announced that long-time USMNT assistant coach B.J. Callaghan will guide the team through this summer’s Concacaf Nations League Finals and Gold Cup after head coach Anthony Hudson departed to accept another opportunity.
Here are five things you should know about B.J. Callaghan:
After playing collegiate soccer at Ursinus College, Callaghan began his coaching career with the Black Bears. He went on to hold various coaching positions within the Philadelphia soccer community, working with FC Delco, Montgomery Soccer Club and EPYSA/Region I ODP programs before moving up the collegiate soccer ladder as an assistant coach first at Saint Josephs and then to Villanova University.
Callaghan was something of a legacy at ‘Nova, where his grandfather Jack Kraft had coached the Wildcats men’s basketball team from 1961-1973, helping guide them to the 1971 NCAA Championship game.
While the sports they coached were different, Callaghan said he still picked up valuable coaching lessons from his grandfather.
“I think I really got a sense of the player-coach relationship from him and how that sort of transcends a game here or a game there,” he told The Athletic in 2018. “The memories or the stories (his players) would all tell, it was more about the importance of how you treat people.”
A few years into his time at Villanova, Callaghan connected with fellow Philadelphia native and long-time MLS veteran Jim Curtin, who returned to his alma mater as a volunteer assistant coach in early 2010. That connection would prove fruitful for the duo moving forward.
Move to the Philadelphia Union
Curtin moved to work in the Philadelphia Union Academy during the summer of 2010 and two years later Callaghan followed. Pulling double duty the first year, Callaghan continued his work as Associate Head Coach at Villanova, while concurrently assisting Curtin with the Union’s U-17 Academy side which won the 2012 Generation Adidas Cup.
With Curtin elevated to a first team assistant coaching position in 2013, Callaghan moved over to work with the Academy fulltime. And when Curtin became interim head coach of the first team midway through the 2014 season, one of his first acts was to call down to the club’s Academy and tell them he needed Callaghan on his technical staff.
“He was someone I called in right away,” Curtin told The Athletic. “A lot of people tend to go with maybe guys who you formerly played with or did a favor for someone. But I did it in a way where I chose a person I trusted and I knew had a high soccer IQ and could help facilitate the messages we wanted to get across… And he has been the most important guy in my development as a coach, to be honest.”
The focus in his day-to-day duties with the Union were toward team defending, opponent analysis, set-piece design, player development and scouting. During his tenure, the club advanced to the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2014, 2015 and 2018, as well as reaching the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2016 and 2018, with those steps laying the foundation for the Union claiming the 2020 MLS Supporters Shield and advancing to the 2022 MLS Cup Final.
Foreshadowing the next step in his career, his time with the Union organization included him playing a part in the development of current USMNT players Brenden Aaronson, Mark McKenzie, Zack Steffen and Auston Trusty.
Stepping Up to the USMNT
Following Gregg Berhalter’s appointment as USMNT head coach in December 2018, Callaghan, who had just earned his U.S. Soccer “PRO” Coaching License, was tapped as an assistant coach and strategy analyst under Berhalter for the 2022 cycle.
While he performed the normal duties of an assistant coach, Callaghan was chiefly responsible for implementing work flows and processes for stronger opponent analysis, as well as how the technical staff would analyze and develop the game model for the USMNT. As more scouts and analysts were added to the USMNT technical staff during the cycle, Callaghan managed the group in-camp as well as scouts that were watching matches involving future USMNT opponents.
There from the very beginning under Berhalter, Callaghan was integral in the team’s efforts to qualify for the 2022 FIFA World Cup and its impressive performance advancing out of the group in Qatar last November. He’s worked as a trusted first assistant under outgoing head coach Anthony Hudson through the first part of this year, providing much-needed continuity to a still-young U.S. team which is continuing to grow.
Player Relationships and Team Culture
Beyond the technical and practical experience he will bring, one of Callaghan’s biggest strengths is his work in building a strong team culture – something that was clearly evident during the USA’s promising run in Qatar.
“Apart from the analysis side of my job, I always viewed myself as a guy looking after the culture of the team,” Callaghan told ussoccer.com of his time with the USMNT. “I take a lot of pride in making sure everyone feels connected to the team and is contributing to the culture of the group. I always viewed myself as the glue and someone who was supporting the messages coming from the head coach. With two important competitions approaching us quickly this summer, I feel continuity is what we need.”
Right Man for This Summer
With Hudson moving on just before the Nations League Final Four and Gold Cup this summer, Callaghan – who has strong and ready-built relationships with the entire player pool -- is best suited to step in at this time. Beyond that, he’s well-versed in the job ahead this summer, having helped navigate the team to the 2021 Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup titles, as well as a runner-up finish at the 2019 Gold Cup.
“I’ve learned a lot from navigating these competitions with the team during the previous cycle, as well as the three-game World Cup qualifying windows.
“The Nations League has two high-level matches and then you immediately have to switch your approach with a mostly different roster as you’re coming in to navigate the Gold Cup during a 30-day period. I have strong experience in both competitions and understand the unique challenges both present. We will rely strongly on the well-established relationships with the playersin order to help us defend both titles.”