United States-born Damon McKnight has just been appointed as manager of the USA U23 Squad. McKnight (27) was introduced to fans and media earlier today in a press conference held in the Allianz Stadium press room in Sydney, Australia and live-streamed on the USMNT Facebook page before a match against A-League opponents Wellington Phoenix.
McKnight was born on 20 September 1992, and has been a football manager since 2014, when he took a job in charge of Napier City Rovers, a semi-professional football club in New Zealand’s Central League. He moved to New Zealand in 2013 on a student visa when he was 20 years old to study business in Napier, and took a part-time job coaching at the club before getting a work visa and dropping out of school to take a full-time managing role at the team following the resignation of former manager Ian Dailey.
McKnight’s only non-playing history was with his school team in America, though he coached youth and refereed for his local community team in Belton, Texas.
“Oh, I love being in New Zealand and working with these talented men. We’re all together for a love of the game, and we try our best to be competitive.”
-McKnight in Sept. 2014
The team was quite successful under his charge, finishing first place in the Central League in his first year in charge, third place in 2016, and then in 2017 he clinched the Chatham Cup for the first time and finished top of the league for a second time, all while studying for two national coaching licenses from New Zealand Football and leading training himself with his assistant manager and one other coach.
At the start of the 2018/19 season, and following a second place finish in the Central League, McKnight left Napier City and took a break from active management to wrap up some coaching study and worked a lower-key job in retail for three months before returning to the game in December 2018 to join the New Zealand National Team as an Under-23 manager for the Oceania qualifiers to the 2020 Olympic Games, which were starting the next month.
McKnight lead the young All-Whites squad into the Olympic Games with an undefeated qualifying run before departing from the All Whites setup at the suggestion of Anthony Hudson, the senior manager.
“I was quite gutted about being released. It wasn’t from a lack of performances in the qualifiers, after all we had just finished undefeated. He [Hudson] wanted a more experienced backroom for the Olympics next year and decided to use the window between qualifying and the actual Games to find someone with the experience to lead an international team in a major tournament.”
-McKnight following his departure from the All Whites, January 2019
Following a brief spell of unemployment, McKnight approached Sydney FC in the Hyundai A-League to become their new manager. While initially skeptical about the employment of an American with only the briefest of international experience and only lower league management experience, the club eventually decided to take him on in May 2019 at the end of the season.
McKnight, following his prior managerial accomplishments, set about working on ways to improve the squad, notably bringing in Italian goalkeeper Filippo Perucchini to strengthen the back-end of the squad and promoting young players such as fan favourite Shane Dingle to the senior team.
McKnight’s Sydney FC is currently in 3rd place in the A-League, performing well above their predicted position of 9th.
“I know the young lad’s still a bit unpolished, but he’s got a special eye for performance, as evidenced by his successes in New Zealand as an unlicensed part-time manger and his lead-up to managing New Zealand and now an Australian professional team. I have every confidence in Damon and his ability to do some good things for my U23 players. This could be a very productive relationship.”
-USA boss Jurgen Klinsmann on the appointment
McKnight’s prior managerial history to date includes:
Napier City Rovers, NZ – 2014-18 (Winners in 15 and 2017)
New Zealand Chatham Cup Winner – 2017
New Zealand U23 – Dec. 2018 – Jan 2019
Sydney FC – May 2019 – Present