“What we’ve got here is failure to communicate. Some men you just can’t reach. So you get what we had here last week, which is the way he wants it. Well, he gets it. I don’t like it any more than you men,”
Captain, “Cool Hand Luke”
(It made us sick typing that headline, too).
So, about qualifying for that 2022 World Cup in Qatar…
It’s difficult to turn our attention beyond the short-term devastation and long-term problems that come from failing to qualify for a World Cup, especially in the forgiving world of CONCACAF qualifying.
For one thing, it’s challenging not to wallow in the disappointment of what is likely a humiliating exclamation point placed on the glittering USMNT careers of Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley, and Geoff Cameron.
The last two will play a bit longer and have some chance of playing a bit part in the next round of World Cup qualifying, but Dempsey and Howard are almost certainly on the verge of their testimonials.
Then there’s the batch of players who won’t get their first taste of the World Cup. Christian Pulisic won’t be able to showcase himself at the age of 19, building up some experience for his prime. Weston McKennie, DeAndre Yedlin (a second for him), Ethan Horvath, and Matt Miazga can’t garner time, either.
Which brings us to the what’s next. Bruce Arena has to be gone. He shouldn’t get another minute on the job. Yes, he’s a legend who managed the team to its longest World Cup run. He also essentially admitted there were better players he’d call in for the World Cup should he got there.
Even ignoring that he also coached one of its most embarrassing tournaments (World Cup 2006) in addition to this fiasco, he has to leave the gig. If you want to debate this for some reason, let’s not waste everyone else’s time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s one thing to remember: A lot of desperate people are going to try to tell you everything is okay. It brings us to the lines so famously uttered by Strother Martin and sampled by Axl Rose in “Civil War.” It’s not good when power reaches a point where it dismisses failure as happenstance or bad luck when it so clearly is, well, failure and the product of design.
U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati is a powerbroker and has had some terrific success guiding the American ship, but the worst thing American soccer can do right now is assume “it could be worse.”
Hardly! And, in fact, perhaps some of us should’ve said that when Arena was hired to replace Jurgen Klinsmann. We rely on the familiar far too often when it comes to American soccer.
I mean LISTEN to this guy, as if the side hasn’t been below its own standards and expectations for the majority of play since the end of the Copa America Centenario:
And we — myself included — are so antsy to celebrate Major League Soccer that we make huge excuses for it. Sure, MLS is improving other players in CONCACAF, but the league is also largely American. And it’s not about those Costa Rican, Jamaican, T&T, or even U.S. kids getting better, it’s more about accepting America’s best talents coming home to play in MLS rather than challenging themselves in much better leagues.
You can love MLS, love the USMNT, and accept that they both need each other to improve but also need to eschew the easy option. Maybe Michael Bradley and Alejandro Bedoya just naturally got a little worse when they came home because of natural career decline, or maybe it was about not playing against better competition. Matt Besler choosing to stay home at Sporting KC instead of trying his hand at Fulham or Sunderland was great for us as MLS fans, but did he reach his potential? Right now, it’s a bit too easy to say no (or yes).
If someone lives to the ripe age of 75, they maybe get 16-17 chances to be cognizant of their nation’s play in a World Cup. We’re set to miss one. RIP.
So, uh, back to the path forward.
Let Arena resign, hire a new coach… And let’s stop with the also-rans. If you need to be an America-first guy, go for Peter Vermes (Sporting KC) or Greg Vanney (Toronto FC). Talk to Tata Martino about leaving Atlanta United, and have a guy who understands MLS but also will work to get his players in great spots. Or find an alum to keep driving the technical bus. What’s Steve Cherundolo doing? Tab Ramos? Claudio Reyna? Yes, you may find a coach who does some things that bother you tactically, but at least you won’t be looking clueless in a must-win match at Trinidad and Tobago.
Build up to Brazil… While the United States is playing friendlies for the next two years, it needs to let its new coach and a bevy of new faces go through their international growing pains ahead of the 2019 Copa America in Brazil.
That team shouldn’t be about a bunch of wily vets trying to manufacture a positive result. It should be about seeing what Miazga, McKennie, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Cristian Roldan, Kenny Saief, and Sebastian Lletget can do against top international competition. With loads of love and respect to Besler, I don’t need to see him mark Neymar.
Get over yourself… The road to a World Cup should be a relative cakewalk for the United States given its talent, which regularly qualifies for major tournaments at the youth level. (And for goodness’ sake, can we please stop with the “CONCACAF is hard” lip service and walk around like a team that knows it’s going to work hard enough to maximize its talent and prevail?).
Well, that means recognizing that the U.S. Soccer Academy system has to be nurtured, and the right top-to-bottom focus should be implemented so the concept of an American team missing out on an Olympics or World Cup at any age level is a thing of the past.
Perhaps this is an argument for bringing in an outsider, someone who is going to say, “I’ve seen it all, and you’re not as good as you think you are.” Kid, try your hand on a bigger club. Veteran, here’s a role you might not like. Not on board? Cool, we’ll find someone else.
November 2019… Ugh. That’s a long way away, but shortly after the Copa America, the U.S. will begin World Cup qualifying again with a fourth round against a decent team, a below average team, and an poor team.
How many surefire guys do we know at this point? Here’s a preliminary look, with ages at that time in parentheses.
Yedlin (26) — Brooks (26) — (CB2) — (LB)
Arriola (24) — McKennie (21) — (CM2) — Pulisic (21)
Wood (27) — Altidore (29)
That’s really not bad.
You’d say Miazga (24) is the front-runner at CB, Carter-Vickers (21) is in the mix too, and Cameron could still be in the fold for that spot or CM2. Bradley isn’t an improbable option there either, nor is Kellyn Acosta. Jordan Morris will hopefully have a claim toward Altidore’s spot, and Haji Wright is one to watch in Europe. Horvath and Bill Hamid are among the goalkeepers who could get looks.
Left back in America is a death spiral. Just assume teams will be ruining Hex matches and World Cup thoughts from that spot (you’ll notice the two goals versus T&T originated from room on that side).
By then the team should be teething several of Tyler Adams (CM), Josh Sargent (FW), Tim Weah (FW), Jonathan Lewis (FW), Matthew Olosunde (DF), and Jonathan Gonzalez (MF).
It doesn’t feel good right now, and it won’t for some time. The interconfederation playoffs are gonna sting, the World Cup draw is gonna be a throat punch, and the tournament itself will carry emotional paper cuts every time you see Alberth freaking Elis dribbling at a world class defense.
But stinging is good if it’s antiseptic. And U.S. Soccer better have some important people ready to flip the script.