Bruce Arena

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Moving forward: The USMNT takes the pitch again

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Few United States men’s national team matches are as weird as Tuesday’s 1-1 draw in Portugal, a feeling that had little to do with a fairly exciting contest.

That’s because the game meant so little, yet meant so much. The Yanks are turning the page after a horrible World Cup, and did it with the failing ex-coach of the bunch serving as an in-studio host and most of its top players at home.

[ MORE: Match recap | Player ratings ]

That led to some interesting conversations, including this one traded by PST staffers Nick Mendola and Andy Edwards during and after the match.

Nick Mendola: Alright, Andy, I’m going to go ahead and say it: For as much vitriol as I feel toward all of U.S. Soccer for ruining one of the precious World Cup summers we get during our time on this Earth, it was a really smart move to play almost exclusively kids on Tuesday.

The first half was fun, the players showed abandon and ambition, and there was a real zest from both sides. Putting aside the howler from Ethan Horvath and the inclusion of Bruce Arena in the pundits’ room, and I have to say that was actually, kinda, fun?

Andy Edwards: What good would it do, having all this “young talent” if we didn’t take the earliest possible opportunity to take a group players like Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams (above), Kellyn Acosta and Matt Miazga and mold them into a cohesive unit? With all due respect to the “old guard” — the previous generation of USMNT regulars — there’s no reason in the universe that they should play a single minute in the next 12 months.

Rather than filling the cracks with youngsters who might not be ready, the “new guard” needs a year — at least — to grow together, before sprinkling in a handful of veterans around them. It’s that kind of entitlement and inertia that, in my opinion, resulted in so much complacency throughout qualifying.

[ MORE: 3 things from the 1-1 draw ]

NM: For sure. And that begs as a question before we go forward full throttle: How much vitriol are we allowed, and when does it have to stop? Because watching the World Cup is going to sting like a melon farmer, and the U.S. should always qualify out of CONCACAF.

With respect to an all-timer in Michael Bradley, when I see Kellyn Acosta delivering on his promise a lot better alongside Danny Williams — and let’s face it: Portugal’s B Team is better than T&T’s B-plus team — I get angry.

When I see Miazga — who did have an error — looking better than Omar Gonzalez — I get angry. Is this unfair? And if not, when does it become unfair? Sorry for the aside.

Williams is held by Portugal’s Bruno Fernandes (AP Photo/Pedro Rocha)

AE: I’m happy to let go of the vitriol and ill will for as long as I don’t hear any excuses from any of the offending parties — or until the former head coach pops up on television broadcasts and I’m forced to relive last month’s debacle again, simply at the sight of his face.

As my own aside: what’s that all about? We’re supposed to move forward under the watchful eye of Bruce Arena, TV analyst? I can’t think of anyone who’s less qualified to tell us, “Here’s what comes next,” and more likely to rehash the same tired debates and practices of the last decade which ultimately got us nowhere. Just like the squad need fresh faces for the long road ahead, the American soccer public needs fresh voices and ideas to challenge and elevate it. If asked again, Bruce, please say no.

Now that that’s off my chest, I’m ready to move on with the rebuild.

[ WATCH: Both goals from the draw ]

NM: When he was asked, “Would you change anything?” and he opted for “Well, we won the Gold Cup and then I called back those pesky guys playing in Europe” — right before calling his phone “the expert machine” as if to flip the bird at any fan who hasn’t managed a team — I almost climbed into my dryer with 1,000 pushpins and a gas can.

Andy, I seriously cannot go any further with this. We need to go back to the game.

So, Tyler Adams can play basically every position, Weston McKennie has more attacking nous than expected, and basically none of these dudes were afraid of the spotlight that came with standing on the pitch when the curtain raised for the first time after disaster?

That part, my friend, is awesome.

AE: Another topic…

It’s great that McKennie, Acosta, Adams, Miazga and a handful of other youngsters answered the call and largely showed well against Portugal, but an important deficiency remains: a secondary playmaker — whether it be someone central when Christian Pulisic plays out wide, or a wide man capable of either stretching the field wide or cutting inside to combine underneath.

The aforementioned bright spots are strike me as functional players in a side built around a strong spine, but lacking the flair and game-changing instincts that so many others lacked before them. It’s great that we have Pulisic, don’t get me wrong, but where do we find — or, do we? — him a suitable running mate?

[ MORE: Arena’s baffling pregame comment ]

NM: That’s a terrific question. I really wanted to see more of Kelyn Rowe, and Arena’s right that he probably earned a carryover nod from Gold Cup to WCQs.

But isn’t that the potential beauty of the next few months? You can give any number of players the chance to show they can be that guy, and USMNT matches also put guys in the shop window.

Again, we’ve got — weeping, weeping, nearly uncontrollable weeping — nearly five years to sort it out. The hope is that Andrew Carleton, Luca de la Torre, Gedion Zelalem, or preferably some veteran will fill that void. I like Rowe, but maybe Nagbe would shine with less defensive responsibility (I’m a lot lower on him than most), or Kenny Saief.

Also, only 1/4 kidding, clearly it’s going to be Clint “Our Pescadito” Dempsey. Speaking of which, where are we on the futures of Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, and Jordan Morris. How many of the three are parts of the next Hex?

AE: Well, Wood is 24, so he’s (hopefully) got two more full cycles as a key contributor. He has to be close to playing himself into a move to a slightly bigger team in the Bundesliga — you know, one that’s not in the relegation scrap every single year. For what it’s worth, he’d have been perfectly suited to play with the pressing and counter mindset of the midfield on Tuesday — much more so than Sapong, at least.

Cameron Carter-Vickers (AP Photo/Pedro Rocha)

As for Altidore and Bradley, there’s clearly still a place for players with the amount of experience and talent. What there hasn’t been for the majority of their USMNT careers — and it’s hurt the program, in hindsight — is anyone to challenge their automatic starting places. That will, hopefully, change once they’re brought back into the fold, roughly this time next year. They’re capable of — and should be doing — much more than their last three years for the Yanks. With that said, if they don’t return with a renewed sense of motivation and gigantic chips on their shoulders, though, it’ll be very easy for me to say goodbye and move on.

NM: That’s the big question, right? Bradley might be the wrong example given that his key work doesn’t necessarily jump off the screen, but that’s — again, hindsight 20/20 — the reason you bring in outside eyes and not go with Arena 2.0. You invite Tata Martino, or Peter Vermes, or Eddie Howe, and they get the keys to the car. No, “Well he’s done a lot for the program.”

Don’t hire the personality for the personality. Don’t hire the guy who has an agenda. Hire the guy who is willing to put the best guys out there every time, who’s willing to be wrong every now and again.

One final question: You calling in Pulisic, Cameron, Wood, and the gang come January, or keeping up a similar “new” vibe for another couple months?

AE: I’m definitely calling in Pulisic and Wood — anybody under 25, really — during the first FIFA window of 2018. To me, it’s paramount that the new guys get reps alongside players of that quality. They’re the ones, after all, who’ll make up the majority of the squad in 2022, with a little bit of luck.

As far as Pulisic has come in the last 12 months, he’s still got a lot to prove and add to his game — as both a player and a leader. We know he’s a brilliant individual player, but his next for years have to be about making everyone else — players both his age and older, don’t forget — better. That’s a lot to ask of a 19-year-old, but he’s given every indication that he wants that responsibility and will hold everyone, himself included, accountable.

With all due respect to Cameron and a select few others, I know what they are at this point. If there’s a need for them to be recalled closer to 2022, I hope they’ll accept the call and make themselves available. But, in my opinion, every opportunity has to be given to younger guys — many of whom we saw on Tuesday — to make one of 23 spots their own. Wasting the next four years by constantly calling in players who’ll be on the wrong side of their primes in 2022 — a la Dempsey and Jones from 2014 to 2018 — would be the grossest mismanagement job this side of the just completed qualifying cycle. Let’s not do that.

NM: And part of that identifying the old guys. Danny Williams, especially as a man holding down a starting spot in the central midfield-driven world of the Premier League, took a large step in that direction on Tuesday. Now who will join him?

Arena: Miazga-Brooks could’ve been World Cup CBs

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Former USMNT coach Bruce Arena is part of the broadcast team for Tuesday’s national team match in Portugal.

The (almost) three cycle USMNT boss had plenty to say regarding the team turning the page, and also talked about the side’s failure to qualify for Russia.

[ FOLLOW: Portugal vs. USMNT ]

The juiciest and most head-scratching quote came when it came to who in Tuesday’s young lineup would’ve been a part of his crew for Russia.

Arena didn’t have access to John Brooks for the final two qualifiers, and sat Stoke City mainstay Geoff Cameron. Instead he chose Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler at center back, not even calling in Matt Miazga.

FYI, according to Arena (yes, I’m still bitter): Miazga wasn’t good enough to get that call for the qualifiers, but likely would’ve started for Arena in Russia.

“We had some injuries during the year in particular the center back position. John Brooks wasn’t available for a long time and today we see John Brooks partnering up with Matt Miazga. If I were a betting man, I would’ve bet that those two would be our center backs for the World Cup.”

Sweet. Sweet, sweet, sweet.

As time goes by, it seems more and more like Arena thought the  “Don’t do what Klinsmann did because he’s dumb” game plan was all he needed to make it to Russia. He followed his preconceptions and is now still trying to find a rationale for his side’s big failure.

USMNT, MLS vet Robbie Rogers retires at the age of 30

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Longtime MLS and USMNT player Robbie Rogers announced his retirement Tuesday at the age of 30.

A terrific career on the field was taken into a historic stratosphere in 2013, when Rogers became the first openly gay male to play in a major North American sports league.

[ JPW: PL Playback – Week 11 ]

Rogers did not play this season after playing 24 matches including playoffs for LA last season.

Here’s what Rogers had to say about his retirement, thanking his legendary Galaxy coach for support and encouragement to play after coming out. From LAGalaxy.com:

“I would like to thank Bruce Arena for encouraging me to return to professional soccer after I came out as a gay man. I’d also like to thank all of my LA Galaxy teammates for accepting me from the first day I stepped back into the locker room at StubHub Center. Finally, I’d like to thank the fans for their continued support throughout my career. I’ll never forget the feeling of returning to the field in my first game back. That feeling of acceptance and support pushed me as an athlete and as a person. Having the opportunity to win an MLS Cup in my hometown, with my hometown club as an openly gay man will be something I will carry with me for the rest of my life. I will remain deeply connected to this sport and its surrounding community. I leave the game full of pride of what I have accomplished as a person and a player. I am looking forward to the next chapter of my life.”

Rogers finishes with 18 caps and three goals, the first coming in January 2009 against Sweden and the last in Slovenia in 2011.

After more than 100 matches for the Columbus Crew, Jurgen Klinsmann helped Rogers get a run with Leeds United. His stay was dogged by injuries and featured a loan to Stevenage before he returned home.

He will walk away from the game with one of the most important assists in U.S. men’s national team history, sending in the corner kick nodded home from Jonathan Bornstein to clinch the top spot in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in 2009:

Report: USMNT interim manager to be named this weekend

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What’s next for the U.S. Men’s National Team?

[ MORE: Landon Donovan considering running for U.S. Soccer presidency ]

The first of many dominos may fall this weekend, according to ESPN FC.

The report states that the USMNT is likely to name its interim manager “some time this weekend,” however, U.S. Under-20 manager Tab Ramos likely won’t be the one named.

Ramos is reportedly seeking a full-time position as the USMNT boss, and the interim tag could be a turn off for the 51-year-old former national team midfielder.

U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati had stated following former U.S. manager Bruce Arena’s departure that he expected to make a decision in “seven to 10 days.” A decision this weekend would stick with Gulati’s original intentions.

The Americans will reconvene next month when they take on Portugal on Nov. 14 in an international friendly in Leiria.

[ MORE: PST speaks with Atlanta United’s Julian Gressel ]

The match was originally scheduled to be played in Faro, but due to recent devastation in the are the fixture will be played in Leiria and all proceeds will go to the victims of wildfire damage. Portugal will also play a friendly four days prior to taking on the U.S. against Saudi Arabia at the same stadium.

Gulati call says to expect more of the same from U.S. Soccer

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It was Tuesday night all over again in Friday’s media conference call with U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati.

Much like the entitled and almost disinterested Americans seemingly expected to beat Trinidad and Tobago with minimal effort and/or urgency, Gulati brushed off any criticism of U.S. Soccer in the wake of the USMNT’s first missed World Cup in four decades.

[ ICYMI: Running diary of Gulati’s conference call ]

The way the call began, with a prepared statement from Gulati claiming “full responsibility” for the abject failure to qualify, quickly turned into the president consistently stating that his body of work makes him the right man for the job moving forward. While he wouldn’t commit to running for the presidency in February — because who could possibly be that audacious two days from an international debacle — he admitted to seeking endorsements and knowing the nomination process well. He even said something about “if the voting delegates” wanted him.

So, yeah, he’s running.

[ MORE: What’s next for U.S. Soccer? ]

That’s not the end of the world, though it also isn’t the start of anything better.

Gulati is a whip smart man who’s done a lot of good for the United States. He’s also seen the level of the men’s and women’s program drop considerably (the women’s drop more short-term and due more to the progressive nature of other nations). The men have now missed a World Cup, two Olympics, and the Confederations Cup. The women bowed out of the Olympics before the medal stand, at the quarterfinals, despite having the richest wealth of talent in the world.

Men in Blazers said it well, too:

Here’s the thing: the United States can still qualify for World Cups on a fairly religious basis without a change at the helm. After all, it’s been doing so for years and arguably outperforming its skill set, and the field is about to expand which will likely make Panama’s stunning work in this tournament closer to commonplace (or at least less impressive). And one of Gulati’s more recent hires, Jurgen Klinsmann, led the team from the Group of Death while an iconic goalkeeper nearly got them to the quarterfinals.

But if the United States wants to move forward on the men’s side, it needs a stronger and visible division between a business side which can include a super intelligent economics professor who can drive the money side and the way the technical development and international performance on the pitch is directed. That’s not to say you have to have a killer playing career to choose a coach (or type an Internet column, I hope). Too often skill with your feet is a pre-qualifier, but cutting ties with Klinsmann to go back to the familiar, ‘Merica-approved well should’ve signaled a problem in vision and/or confidence. And, as supporters and media, we need to move past our silly divisions. Not every failure or success is a reason to toot some horn about promotion/relegation, MLS being just behind Ligue 1, the women being better than the men, or some other obstacle to unity in the goals of putting the best teams forward.

It’s funny that it took this for higher-ups to fall back on concepts like “pay to play” and inner city soccer, as if those concepts didn’t help pad the accounts of so many people currently in charge of soccer here. In a way, it seems an attempt to overshadow the concrete examples we saw from the United States men’s national team over both rounds of qualifying.

Remember, these players lost to Guatemala in the fourth round and technically were in danger of missing the Hex. They lost to Mexico for a Confederations Cup berth, then the first two games of the Hex. Players were said to be tired of Klinsmann and not performing for him. Unfortunately for that excuse, a change in coaches didn’t help. It was very much endemic, and Arena either didn’t see the need to push the buttons, instead shelving the complacency onto Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron, or his words went unheeded. This team showed a willingness to throttle teams when fired up and motivated. Somehow, simply drawing in Trinidad and Tobago to make a World Cup didn’t qualify (Pun. In. Tended).

[ MORE: 3 things from USMNT loss | Player ratings ]

A few days after the elimination, one of my gut feelings remains as it has for some time: The entitlement of U.S. Soccer is unacceptable, the arrogance embarrassing. Qualifying for a World Cup had become a birthright. Unbridled power, as we heard today, bristling at any question with even the slightest hint of displeasure with “the way things are done.” A few scholarships given from a youth club to a family doesn’t mean you rest your crossed arms and shrug when the Americans lose multiple home qualifiers to players who would nearly kill to qualify for a World Cup.

As long as the Bruce Arenas and Sunil Gulatis of this world are content with the process and, you could say, content in their positions, nothing big is going to change. Maybe there will more World Cup groups like 2002, when a lone win over a down Portugal and a knockout round date with Mexico will bring it to the precipice of the semis.

Should that happen, will we crown that group forever and lean on their accolades? It feels like U.S. Soccer supporters, coaches, and players don’t want a part of that. But there’s a certain group who sees it as safe and able to be lauded magnificent.

It screams complacency with what’s “worked” so far. In Gulati’s case, it doesn’t scream, it says it plainly, “I’ve done a lot of good. And I’m going to keep doing good. Are we really questioning this? Soccer used to be a laughingstock, and now people care.”

There’s a bit of “one newspaper town” to U.S. Soccer. It’s coming from mostly the same group, and the naysayers can be so brash that it emboldens the buttoned up and proper. To be honest, there are lessons U.S. Soccer needs to take from the actual U.S. president election in 2016. At some point, people reject “the same” for anything that feels like it might be different. Different isn’t always good. In fact, sometimes it’s terrible. And if you’re unwilling to question the powerful for fear of exclusion? Stare down that mirror, kid.

That’s why Gulati could’ve done well by relinquishing any say in the on-field process, puff his chest at the exceptional growth of U.S. Soccer away from the playing field and admit there are better men to make the final say than him. Say he’ll oversee FIFA matters, and land the 2026 World Cup for North America. May even nod to the plebes with a wink about improving MLS and pro/rel.

He’d have to believe that, though, and that goes back to Tuesday. The players on the field, perhaps sated by their coach, thought it was just going to happen for them. When it didn’t, we heard from the coach that he was disappointed but wouldn’t change a thing. Essentially we heard the same from the president today.

Not encouraging and, honestly, a waste of time.

It would be hyperbole to say that this conference was just as infuriating as the performance on Tuesday, but there are scary, top-down similarities between the, “Can you believe CONCACAF?!?” coach quips and today’s call.