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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.

MLS 3 Things: Resurgent Zardes, Toronto up, New England down

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A busy Saturday in Major League Soccer sees three interesting results bolstering the story lines of the final few months of the season.

[ MORE: Unstoppable Josef | Zlatan, too ]

1) Imagine a world with the reigning champs as your reward for finishing first.

With 14 matches to play, Toronto FC has Jozy Altidore back in the fold and has pulled to within eight points of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot after a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

Sebastian Giovinco looks like Sebastian Giovinco in scoring another outstanding goal, just his fifth of the season, while Jonathan Osorio also scored in the win.

Before you watch Seba’s goal, picture you’ve won the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now picture TFC as your semifinal reward.

2) New England is well and truly slumping

Brad Friedel‘s Revs are slipping after losing a third-straight league match, and New England has gained a solitary point since the calendar turned to July following a 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena.

Fourth through ninth in the East are separated by nine points, and New England is very much in that mix now. Friedel is certainly at the most trying time of his tenure.

Second half goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer did the trick for RBNY, who have claimed 15 of the last 18 points available to them (The lone blemish is the Hudson River Derby).

The Red Bulls are now 8-1-1 at home this season, while New England is 1-4-4 away from Foxboro.

3) Gyasi Zardes’ return to form is surprising and wonderful

Columbus has its second win since May 19, and will be feeling much better about itself following a 3-2 comeback win over Orlando City which included a pair of equalizers.

One of those came in the 88th minute, as Gyasi Zardes completed his brace by converting a penalty won by new arrival Patrick Mullins.

The Crew won late via a rare Wil Trapp goal — the USMNT midfielder has just two in 161 matches — but let’s focus on Zardes.

Zardes’ 13th goal of the season continues an amazing turnaround under striker whisperer Gregg Berhalter. It’s Zardes’ second double-digit season, and his first since 2014. He is firmly in frame for another USMNT look, this time as a center forward, but first there’s plenty to like about the big man.

Surging Galaxy ride Ibrahimovic magic to 3-1 win (video)

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a man on fire, and the LA Galaxy are rounding into form.

The Galaxy overcame an early deficit in Chester to clobber the Philadelphia Union 3-1 on Saturday behind a goal and an assist from their world-class striker.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

Romain Alessandrini had two assists, while Michael Ciani and Ola Kamara also scored for LA. CJ Sapong scored for Philly, assisted by Borek Dockal.

Unbeaten-in-seven LA moves into fourth in the West with the win, while Philadelphia remains three points back of sixth in the East.

Ibrahimovic has now scored in six of his last seven matches, and has 12 goals and two assists in 21 matches overall.

Let’s start with the assist, which we must’ve seen two dozen times when the big Swede was with Paris Saint-Germain.

Ibrahimovic takes a difficult pass out of the air with absurd touch, then waits for the right time to send an impeccable through ball into the path of Kamara.

As for the goal, you almost feel for Mark McKenzie.

The Union’s Homegrown defender has to choose between Alessandrini darting into his box and allowing Ibrahimovic a lick of space.

He gives it, understandably, then rushes to close down Ibrahimovic.

It wasn’t fast enough. Boom.

Americans on both sides, Weah scores as PSG fall to Bayern (video)

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Two hopes of the USMNT’s future — one more immediate than the other — squared off in the International Champions Cup on Saturday.

Paris Saint-Germain teenager Timothy Weah, 18, went 90 minutes and scored his side’s only goal in the 3-1 loss in Austria.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

On the other side of the field was 62nd minute substitute Chris Richards, far less known to the American supporter.

Richards is on loan from FC Dallas, where he’s a Homegrown Player. The 18-year-old center back is going to play for Bayern’s U-19 side following a successful trial in April.

Both Bayern and PSG were without key pieces, as Weah went up against a decent Bayern back line of Juan Bernat, Javi Martinez, Josip Stanisic, and Rafinha.

Arjen Robben, Sandro Wagner, and Franck Ribery were the biggest names in Bayern’s XI, while David Alaba, Kingsley Coman, and Serge Gnabry came off the bench.

For PSG, Gianluigi Buffon started as did Adrien Rabiot.

Weah’s goal is below, and here’s what he had to say about it:

“It’s an amazing feeling and getting a well-done job. Me scoring goals, I was really happy to get my first goal for PSG and first goal in this competition. We’re going to Singapore with our head on our shoulders. We’re going to be really humble and keep playing.”

Klopp talks Pulisic, Liverpool’s spending

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Jurgen Klopp admits he’d love to work with Christian Pulisic again, but isn’t going to butt his nose into Borussia Dortmund’s business.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s International Champions Cup match against BVB, Klopp was asked about his interest in the American teenager.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez bags 3 more ]

Klopp was quick to point out that Pulisic is under contract to Dortmund and not for sale, as much as he’s aware.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He had not his best season last year but he was still a decisive player but it’s important in that age group that there’s no rush. He still has 14 or 15 years to play in his career and that’s good and he wants to be the best Pulisic he can be. For this, there is still space for development.

“If – at one point – he will join us, I don’t know. I like him, it’s not that that could be the problem, but we respect contracts still and there’s no market I know about at the moment. We did our business and Dortmund are doing theirs. All good.”

Also all good? Klopp’s evolution on spending after blasting other Premier League clubs for big money buys in the past.

Klopp said he would quit football if transfer fees like Paul Pogba‘s became the norm. Well, they have, and no club has spent as much money as the Reds this summer.

“That’s the problem these days, hey? Whatever b.s. you say, nobody will forget it. On the other side, it’s still kind of true. I couldn’t have imagined since then that the world would change like it has. Two years ago £100million was a crazy number. Since then the world has changed completely.”

He said he’s going to do whatever it takes to make Liverpool successful, and Klopp now has the world’s most expensive goalkeeper and most expensive defender in his squad.