Welcome to a world where the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) loses 2-1 against Trinidad and Tobago, and for the first time in thirty years fails to earn a World Cup berth. Social media is absolutely packed with former and current players; journalists and supporters; all rending their clothes, grinding their teeth, clutching their pearls. We have a major problem if, in the last match, we cannot even draw. It wasn’t too long ago when Bruce Arena, USMNT’s head coach, proclaimed that we will not see an NASL player take the field with the U.S Mens National Team in his lifetime. This week, two of those NASL players, playing for Trinidad, made him eat his words.
Is it bad that we didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia?
According to the broadcast team on BeIn Sports, U.S Soccer Federation (USSF) representatives were observed getting nervous throughout the match. Of course they wanted them to qualify. But perhaps also, with all the recent news of lawsuits over pay and antitrust violations, the USSF needed a moral victory. Lacking that, they could point to a US victory as a substitute. Had the U.S qualified, they could probably get everyone back onto the status quo narrative train of applauding mediocrity and thanking Arena for the great job he did. The media would play along, hyping up the players and accomplishments.
But their listless performance, and over-dependence on a single young talent, put the lie to the talking point that nothing is wrong. We can no longer paper over the cracks. Members of the media can no longer defend the people at the top of the game in this country. Everyone in U.S Soccer must be held accountable. Jurgen Klinsman was sacked because the Federation feared we wouldn’t qualify; we bring in Arena and that didn’t pay off. Where does this end? What’s the future of the national team? We don’t have an identity or a plan going forward. And how can we, when the people responsible for developing a plan won’t, can’t, even acknowledge the problem?
This loss will bring change to U.S Soccer. The question is: will it even be close to enough? Sunil Gulati will go. This will be too much for him. Fresh blood can lead a reform campaign if it has the guts to stand up for what’s right, but only if they accept the problems for that they are. Bruce Arena will go. He was brought in as a stopgap, to qualify for the World Cup, and was never a long term solution to anything. Since we failed that objective, Bruce Arena deserves the sack. If he had any dignity, he would resign. But what he had to say recently suggests that, were he actually to resign, he will still have to be pushed from behind the scenes.
After the match Bruce Arena addressed the media at the post match press conference. He said:
“I think it’s disappointing. It’s a blemish for us. We should be not be staying home for this World Cup. I take responsibility for that…There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing. Certainly as our league grows, it advances the national team program. We have some good young players come up. [But] 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…I think we foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal. At that point we started to get into the game and it was going to be OK.
“That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. It got them motivated and they closed out the half in good form. That was a big play in the game. I thought maybe the first 5-10 minutes we were okay. But I think their energy, and dropping off, they got in good spots. Our center-backs were not confident enough with the ball, and really we often in the first half we were playing eight against ten because they really needed to carry the ball and bring a player to the ball and move it a bit quicker.
“Our forwards were not able to hold the ball, we did a poor job there. We didn’t get Pulisic into the game, we played poorly. The first goal was unfortunate. Those things happen. The second goal was an incredible shot. What can you say?”
“Give our opponent credit. They played well, they played hard, on the day they won a lot of individual battles against us, and they deserve all the credit for their win. “It never mattered to us the score of the other games at any time today.”
The U.S fails to qualify, and Bruce Arena rambles excuses. We need to see change soon if we want to compete on the international level. Arena’s “there’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing, certainly as our league grows, it advances the national team program” comment was a thirty-foot red flag. Arena echoes the mentality across the USSF/SUM/MLS cabal: that if we grow – not improve – Major League Soccer, the Mens National Team will be successful. Nothing could be more wrong. Worse, it’s delusional.
We need to fix the sport from the bottom up, from the youth kids and their families who can’t afford the pay to play system. We should want kids to play the game from when they’re young and not be scared off because of the price of participation. We need more professional players and staff making a living from their contributions. We need to deal with the bad effects of the NCAA on talent development. We need solidarity payments. We need an open pyramid.
Jurgen was right. The problem isn’t with any particular coach or any particular players. It’s the systemic consequences of a closed system that ensures MLS stability and SUM cashflow by cannibalizing the potential of an entire country.
Remember one thing – without supporters this sport is nothing. The leagues and member clubs would not be able to get sponsorship deals, tv deals and etc. The supporter is the most important part of the game. We need to stand up for what is right. We need real clubs, and every club should have the same opportunity to grow and develop. Each kid growing up should be able to play the sport regardless of how much their parents make. We should do away with the NCAA pipeline that fails to deliver what American soccer needs. These are issues that we need to collectively acknowledge and work on. Leaving it to a handful of volunteers in an unprofessional and corrupted federation is how we got here in the first place.
The U.S not qualifying for the World Cup is very sad. We will feel the effects of this failure long after the USMNT have a chance to try again, because four years is a long time in the career of a talented player. People that don’t follow the sport may laugh at our dismay. Football fans abroad will wonder what’s going in this country. For a time, we’ll be in a dark space. How we use this time to bring change to the sport, if we do, will lay the foundations for the next generation of American soccer. A lot of people don’t like change, but it’s whats needed in this country.