Article By Joe Azer
Three years ago, in the summer of 2014, the US Men’s National Team captivated the entire country. Crowds got larger with each game. The country stood still as we watched the US go toe to toe with Belgium, in what would end up being a heartbreaking loss in the round of 16; a match they should have won ( here’s looking at you, Wondolowski) There was so much hope for US Soccer. Russia was supposed to be our breakout party. There was so much optimism about the future; Deandre Yedlin, Julian Green, John Brooks and not to mention the youngster tearing up the ranks Christian Pulisic Jurgen Klinsmann was going to have these kids ready for Russia. All that hope, all that optimism, they are gone now! Imagine being promised the latest and greatest Playstation and instead getting a Commodore 64. Go ahead, look it up. I’ll wait.
It may seem like a bit of a stretch, but in reality, the US did something they have not done in over 30 years. That’s right, that’s when Commodores were HOT! The last time USMNT missed a World Cup was in 1986. At that time, only two teams from CONCACAF made it to the World Cup, and one was automatically Mexico because they were hosting the thing. Of all the players on the USMNT roster, the last time the US missed a World Cup, only Tim Howard was alive. Many of us have only ever known a world where the US and Mexico were guaranteed to take two of CONCACAF’s spots in World Cup. Two days ago, our world changed. USMNT has undone 30 years of soccer progress.
Ok, let’s tone down the dramatics for the moment. CONCACAF is improving. No, seriously. In 2014 CONCACAF sent four teams to the Cup (US, Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras). Three of those four made it to the round of 16. Only CONMEBOL had a better percentage of teams getting out of the group stages. Costa Rica even made it to the round of 8, and lost to the Netherlands (another country bemoaning their men’s soccer team performance) on penalty kicks. CONCACAF held their own on the world stage. Ok, enough sensibility.
It has been 48 hours since the final whistle blew and the stink still lingers. Without question, this loss was the worst loss in the history of USMNT. Trinidad and Tobago had won only one match prior to this game (1 -0 win vs. Panama). Let’s not lie to ourselves either, this team struggled all through the hexagonal. They looked so bad, they cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job. Bruce Arena was supposed to change this group. They didn’t want to play for Klinsmann, he was out of touch with US Soccer. He touted that the US game was not good enough to hang with Europe or South America. He was right about that, but that’s for another day. Arena came back and he was going to return US Soccer back to its glory. To be fair, things got bad under Klinsmann. The US got throttled by Mexico and Costa Rica in the first two games and something had to change.
It seemed that all that ails US Soccer of late came to a head on one night. I won’t accept an excuse about the pitch, because T&T had to play on the same pitch. The reality is, the backline failed at their job. The US had no cohesiveness to their offense. T&T dominated the pace in the first half and had a 2-0 lead. The first goal was an own goal by our very own Omar Gonzalez. The second goal a fluke 30 yarder that caught Tim Howard off guard and had him unable to get his footing. Other than the Pulisic goal and a shot off the post by Dempsey, there was nothing to point to of value, or of hope or of optimism. It was supposed to be an easy game for the US and they labored through it, as if they were completely unprepared. Teams that play for the draw lose, and that was so true on this night. On this night, US Soccer lost more than this game.
Of course, no one thought that both Mexico and Costa Rica would lose on the same night. Some might argue they had nothing to play for, they had both already clinched. Dare I suggest that the four nations colluded to keep the US out of the WC? Their own proverbial wall, if you will. This is no place for politics and this loss was not about that. This loss was about a soccer program that lost its way. No youth in the pipeline, a lack of creativity on the pitch, an aging roster, and so much more. I go back to the matter of US players playing in MLS. Who are they playing against, they are playing against members of the roster of T&T and Panama, and Honduras. This is not a bad thing, but these nations no longer fear US Soccer, they play with the all the time. Bradley, Altidore, Dempsey, Howard, Guzan were all congratulated for taking big steps in their careers and coming back to MLS. Yes, US Soccer has a responsibility to help MLS but it should also make their top-flight players play in top-flight leagues. Of the 25 men on the roster, four play in Europe (Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Tim Ream, Geoff Cameron) FOUR! That’s just insane. Call me a Euro snob, but I have always agreed with Klinsmann on this point, and he is probably feeling a bit justified at the moment.
Where do we go from here? Keep Pulisic, he’s truly special and scrap the rest of it. Truth be told, he is the only player on the US roster who might be recruited to play at one of the top Euro clubs. There was a day you might say that for Howard, Bradley, and even Dempsey, but those days are gone. Start with Sunil Gulati and work your way down the chain of command. I don’t know if I’m disappointed or embarrassed for US Soccer. This should have never happened. When Germany missed the Euros in 2004, they put a 10-year plan together to win the WC and that’s exactly what they did. That sounds laughable to think that US Soccer is any position to do that today based on what we saw. However, we are the same country that went from the Commodore to the Macbook to the iPhone. It’s going to be hard to watch the next WC, but I won’t want to miss what real soccer looks like. Make sure you record every game Lionel Messi plays in. A truly once-in-a-lifetime talent, who may one day, when he retires from Barca, cross the pond and play in MLS way passed his prime. Sadly, that’s likely the only chance of talent influx for US Soccer today. It’s going to be a very long four years.