A week later, the dust has finally (kind of) settled. Last Tuesday the United States mens soccer team lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago. A destination island with a population of 1.3M
beat dominated the team assembled from a population of 385M. It was an embarrassing performance, and it was the culmination of a downward trend that the Mens Soccer program has taken. And this final nail in the coffin results in the United States missing out on next year’s World Cup in Russia. It’s humiliating, it’s pathetic, and it shouldn’t have happened.
Tuesday’s debacle may have been the finishing blow, but it goes way beyond that when it comes to assigning blame. Tim Howard was terrible. Omar Gonzalez was terrible. Michael Bradley was terrible. Geoff Cameron didn’t even play. Bruce Arena didn’t have his team prepared to at least tie Trinidad. Imagine that. Imagine not being able to tie Trinidad in literally anything, let alone go out there and get run off the field. It was a lifeless performance from start to finish. There was no sense of urgency, they were flat, and they were pitiful. Credit to Trinidad for getting up for this one, and credit to Panama and Honduras for stepping up in must-win situations and walking away with victories. It was surreal, it still is. I’ll admit on Tuesday I was arrogant enough to think the unthinkable couldn’t happen until it actually did. Panama scored a late goal that made this nightmare very real very quickly.
As stated above, Tuesday is not why USA won’t be playing in Russia next summer. As a nation we’ve failed to field a competitive team for quite some time. We’ve been fortunate enough to witness some clutch moments from great players (i.e. Landon Donovan vs. Algeria, John Brooks vs. Ghana), but overall the squad has missed the mark repeatedly. 2012 Olympics? Didn’t qualify. 2016 Olympics? Didn’t qualify. Most people assume the team is in good shape because they see the USA squad up for the World Cup every four years, but the problems have been there for upwards of a decade, and they couldn’t be more clear than they are right now.
Bruce Arena is gone. He was never a permanent solution anyway but was seen as a stopgap when Jurgen Klinsmann got the axe. The former coach was not necessarily the right choice at the time, but given his experience with the team and many of the players, his job was to more or less qualify for the World Cup and see it through Russia 2018. Job not well done. He technically resigned but probably should have been publicly lynched. He should have been left in Trinidad and Tobago, but that’s too nice a location for an exiling. I think Tab Ramos is the interim HC. I like Tab Ramos and have ever since his playing days (shout out to the NY/NJ MetroStars). Don’t know if he’s the right permanent choice, but whoever wins the job better fucking deliver aka they better play the best players and not the old veterans who don’t have it anymore.
Sunil Gulati needs to go. He’s the President of US Soccer and he stinks at his job. You can cite whatever achievements you want, but a complete overhaul is imperative now. This is rock bottom, but more so an opportunity to right this wrong and get back on track. Sunil Gulati need not be a part of it. He has already said he won’t step down, but has not confirmed that he’ll run for re-election. Accountability starts at the top, and the United States failing to qualify for the World Cup is just as much his responsibility as it is the men on the field who failed to do their jobs.
The players are not good enough. Long gone are the days of Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard. They’re both shells of themselves at this point. Deuce and Howard are soccer legends in the United States and are integral parts of the success and growth of soccer in the US. Ultimately, the players are the people who failed to finish the job on the field. Whether it was a lack of motivation, an off day, no cohesiveness, etc. is inconsequential. Every single player dropped the ball. The torch is already being passed, and the next generation of soccer will have big shoes to fill. Christian Pulisic is a superstar at just 19. It would have been incredible watching him on the world’s biggest stage, but it’ll have to wait until Qatar 2022. Every time he touches the ball, he’s a game changer. Learn the name because he’ll be around for a long time. There’s no ceiling on his potential and has already shown brilliance for the USMNT and in Germany (Dortmund, no big deal). Pulisic, Jordan Morris, Kellyn Acosta, maybe even Bobby Wood. These are the names we’ll be cheering for down the line.
Taylor Twellman’s rant after the game, I think, will go down in history as a seminal moment for US Soccer. As a former player, it’s crystal clear how passionate he is about the program. My eyes didn’t leave the screen for one second once Twellman got going. He hit the nail on the head with salient point after salient point. Visibly upset, I think I speak for many soccer fans when I say he represented the public opinion well live on SportsCenter. This was everything.
The progress in this country has been great in terms of growing popularity of soccer, but clearly there’s much more to be done. The reality of pay-to-play for young players is unfortunate; I don’t have an alternative because that’s a major undertaking that I’m not qualified to even speculate on. But it’s a shame that many ultra talented youngsters literally cannot afford to further their training. MLS teams should have free academies for training, all of them. Personally, I think college soccer is a major hindrance to the growth of the National Soccer program. In other countries, prospects skip college to train full time. It’s difficult to compare soccer in the US to soccer in let’s say Brazil because footie is literally a way of life there. Soccer is the sport in Brazil and most countries across the globe. Soccer isn’t even close to the top sport here. That’s not going to change, but that doesn’t mean major changes can’t be made to pave a new road.
This stinks. Gathering at the bar with your buddies to booze and cheer on the United States is an amazing experience, and to miss that opportunity at age 26 will undoubtedly suck. Even non-soccer fans get up for the World Cup. And there’s no bigger event to bring in new viewers than the World Cup. This is as bad as its been, but I think this could be a good thing. Maybe something like this needs to happen in order to invoke change. Twellman mentioned Germany experiencing something similar and winning a World Cup 10 years later. This MUST be a wake up call for the decision makers in the USSF. The road we’re on has reached a dead end. It’s time to change direction.