The United States failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, losing 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday evening. This will be the first time since 1986 the Red, White and Blue will not participate in the quadrennial Festival of Football.
The U.S. started the night in third place in the final round of World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF, but its loss, combined with Honduras’ 3-2 win over Mexico, and Panama’s 2-1 victory over Costa Rica dropped them to fifth place, allowing the Panamanians to claim third place on goal difference, and Honduras to play an elimination match against Australia.
“I think it’s disappointing. It’s a blemish for us,” said United States Head Coach Bruce Arena. “We should be not be staying home for this World Cup. I take responsibility for that.”
Arena attempted to soften the blow and fall on the sword Tuesday night, however, he failed in his single task: Qualify for the World Cup. In other countries, he would be asked to fly commercial back home.
As a member of #SoccerTwitter, I am more than disgusted and angry. I am mortified.
I am mortified because soccer in America has become more mainstream in the past 10 years. Soccer in America has received millions upon millions of dollars from many multi-national companies. FOX Sports invested $500 million in broadcast rights for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. Many estimates predict FOX could lose up to $200 million because America won’t participate in next summer’s Festival of Football.
The performances on the night were shocking. The selection played with listlessness, lacked urgency and effort. Arena put the same starting XI on the pitch that beat Panama 4-0 Friday night. This team showed a perverse sense of entitlement and its stench rampant in the U.S. Soccer camp. That stench radiated from Arena in his press conference.
“There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing,” he said. “Certainly as our league grows, it advances the national team program. We have some good young players come up. Nothing has to change. To make any kind of crazy changes I think would be foolish. We’re building a good system in our professional league. We have players playing abroad of some quality. There’s enough there. There’s no excuses for us not qualifying for the World Cup.”
The issues U.S. Soccer currently faces are appalling, dire and ghastly. America’s soccer federation is judged on the successes and failures of their men’s and women’s national teams. Coupled with the millions invested in U.S. Soccer, the failure to qualify for the World Cup means U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati’s position is untenable. He must hand in his resignation letter effective immediately. There is no reason he should run for re-election. Why on Planet Earth would he re-hire Bruce Arena after firing him 10 years earlier?
U.S. Soccer needs a fortification of its foundation. Yes, the overall profile of Major League Soccer has grown by leaps and bounds. Yes, the league can be seen around the world. Even in my humble abode, Atlanta United has redefined what it means to have a football club. Their academy produces quality players from day one and has rewritten the expectations for every MLS club everywhere. Branding, match attendance, community engagement and marketing has been unlike anything MLS has seen. It is not outlandish to ask for a coach and technical director that comes from the outside to run U.S. Soccer. To be frank, if Sunil Gulati got Roy Hodgson, they would’ve qualified for the World Cup. Why Roy? He’d at least drag America over the line.
It is an absolute shame U.S. Soccer should be relying on Christian Pulisic to be the Messiah while having an aging Clint Dempsey, a consistently inconsistent Jozy Altidore and the rest of the squad bereft of ideas, talent, vision and tactical awareness. Even if USMNT got over the line, they would be outclassed in Russia.
The United States have officially hit rock bottom. However, in 2000, Germany suffered a disastrous European Championships. Everyone involved in administration was sacked and a referendum took place in all levels of German football. They installed a 12 year plan to reform the youth set up, get rid of the stale veterans, renew their minds and win the World Cup. They accomplished their goal in 2014. Equal parts money, equal parts player development.
This loss to Trinidad, as painful and damning as it is, forces U.S. Soccer to look at themselves in the mirror and finally acquire the brightest minds in the game to inspire the players. Moreover, these coaches and backroom staff must establish an amicable relationship with Don Garber and Major League Soccer to identify the youngsters that are rising up, give them opportunities to feature in their team’s academies and ascend to the national team. In nine years, it will be those players at or below the Under-18s level that will represent America in 2026. Not Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, Brad Guzan, Cameron, Zusi, Wondo, Besler, Omar Gonzalez and/or Bedoya. Those players are no longer fit to wear the shirt.
The time for U.S. Soccer to wake up and turn the page is now. They can go from laughingstock to royalty in a short amount of time. However, throwing money at their issues will not take them to the promised land.