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Sifting through the ashes of the U.S. Soccer election

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It has now been four days since Carlos Cordeiro was elected president of the United States Soccer Federation, and he’s changed absolutely nothing and stands as a monumental failure.

Jokes aside, it’s a challenge to find the right feeling for this new era of American soccer. The response to Cordeiro’s election was entirely predictable for two significant crowds.

[ MORE: JPW talks with Carlos Cordeiro ]

First, there is the disappointment that flowed freely from the fringes of the anti-establishment group, the bunch that generally wields #ProRelForUSA as a prime solution to the question of what’s kept our 20-year-old top flight club soccer league from taking a Louisville Slugger to all of the top talents at the Bernabeu and Old Trafford and sprinkling them between San Jose, Kansas City, New York City, Wichita, Buffalo, and Ismay, Montana.

Second, there’s the group of MLS-first honks and a legion of those who either directly benefit from the league or enjoy credit for its incredible growth. Their responses are largely a combination of exhaling and castigating the masses who wished to see monumental change on the voting floor. The people had their say, and they love chanting “I believe that we will win.” They are perhaps a bit easier to identify now that they will criticize both Bruce Arena and Sunil Gulati now that they’re positive they are no longer in charge.

But Sunday’s election wasn’t just one for the extremists. It was monitored with interest from people all over our world, magnified by the fact that Arena and Gulati’s USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup out of the most forgiving confederational set-up this side of Oceania.

[ MORE: The soccer world reacts ]

The sheer number of texts or calls I received from both big time soccer fans and casual observers was almost equal, and people were ticked off: How did the United States not learn from their failure?

I wanted to give a proper reply, and not just shoot off some vitriol that has been sitting on top of my chest for months. Part of this was because I felt Cordeiro proffered more vision and personality than Carter, who I had assumed might dance to the crown. And I didn’t say it in the run-up to the election, because I was hoping for better, and I didn’t want to say it afterwards until I was 100 percent sure it was coming from a place of honesty.

SIDE NOTE NO. 1 — Before we go any further, all of this isn’t to say that Cordeiro won’t be a weapon of positive growth who leaves soccer to soccer people — he’s said all soccer hires will be recommended to him by soccer people — keeps the business on track, opens up youth soccer so parents don’t have to downgrade their vehicle to pay a “technical director’s” salary, separates MLS and SUM from U.S. Soccer, and makes it so tiny Ismay 16 SC can have the same opportunity to grow into a soccer giant as the New York Red Bulls. He’s come to the game armed with business acumen, and he may be willing to make some unorthodox moves that require “United Passions 2: This One Doesn’t Stink Because of Carlos.”

The feeling I had all along is this: Almost every voter in that room cares deeply about soccer, but almost every voter has also risen to their current position of influence due to the current system. Many have been involved in the game since the rise of the USMNT and USWNT programs. They’ve seen the massive growth of soccer in the United States over whichever period you choose, because it’s been moving upward since the early 1990s if not earlier. The idea of an admin outsider topping two establishment candidates was a lofty one (and we should applaud everyone who went after it, especially Wynalda and Martino for currying enough favor to make fear a legitimate feeling for those in power).

[ MORE: Zidane gets it right vs. PSG ]

Largely, my gut says the voters would’ve gladly welcomed Sunil Gulati back for another term if he just owned the USMNT failure with true humility (Oddly enough, had the Yanks not qualified for Russia with Klinsmann through a second cycle, he probably would’ve been altogether safe to make his next hire, but that’s another story).

He didn’t come close to handling the situation with any sense of even PR-induced responsibility, and when a federation is in tumult a lot of perceived condescension that may’ve been overlooked as eccentric or confident during the halcyon days just looks like uppity nonsense. Whether or not the emperor is actually naked, he sure appears so.

So who were the voters going to be drawn to? The handpicked successor, by all accounts Kathy Carter, didn’t seem likely to get the job done without appealing to voters with a modicum of change-driven authenticity. The upstarts, led by Eric Wynalda and Kyle Martino, may have ultimately appeared too similar to voters as former players with broadcasting acumen (For what it’s worth, NBC affiliation aside, Martino struck me as a potential winner from Day One of his candidacy while there is no denying the immense headway won by the relentless campaigning of Wynalda).

It would’ve taken the soccer campaigning equivalent of baseball’s perfect game for Steve Gans, Michael Winograd, or Paul Caligiuri to project into the top-tier, and Hope Solo’s troubled past was likely a non-starter (despite some exceptional work on the trail).

Hindsight being 20/20, is it any surprise that a man who was described as Sunil Gulati’s protege but clearly wasn’t in lockstep with the embattled boss was enough of a chance for the voters? The first vote saw Cordeiro emerge with a slim lead of Carter, and only Cordeiro and Martino gained in both the second and third ballot.

SIDE NOTE NO. 2 — Soccer Twitter has stirred in me what amounts to an occasional but very real paranoia about the establishment, and there was a part of me that harbored the following conspiracy theory: Carter’s low profile candidacy and the stories of Don Garber and Sunil Gulati courting voters for her was simply designed to get people comfortable with the idea of Cordeiro being establishment but not the establishment’s choice (It’s worth noting that this conspiracy theory does not require Cordeiro to be in the know if you want it to be extra nutty). At the right hour of any given day, I will fight you on behalf of this conspiracy theory. Most hours, though, I just laugh and make more coffee.

[ MORE: Cordeiro’s open letter to U.S. Soccer ]

Perhaps, as some have suggested, there would’ve been a better chance of a revolution if there were only one or two rivals to Carter or Cordeiro, but I don’t believe the election would’ve carried as much water with the soccer public without the controlled chaos caused by the nine person pool (a ninth candidate, Paul Lapointe, was eliminated from contention in late December).

But as I reflect on the tumult of the fall, the candidates announcements, their campaigning, and the election, it seems like it was always going to be Cordeiro. He declared his candidacy before Gulati announced he wouldn’t run, agreed to have a soccer committee recommend all hirings, and would have the establishment’s resume without carrying its recent failures.

If any change was going to come, it was going to come with a buffer of four years (and next time, can we please have presidential and VP tickets? Don’t you want to know right away who your president wants as his or her right hand man or woman?!? What if you were choosing between Carter-Cordeiro, Martino-Winograd, Gans-Solo, and Wynalda-Caligiuri?).

And when we’re breaking down the 2022 presidential election, Cordeiro is likely going to be carrying a USMNT World Cup berth and hosting duties for the 2026 World Cup. His staff and he have to know that the failure to qualify was a managerial blip on the radar, which means how U.S. Soccer treats youth soccer, the women’s game, and club ball over the next four years is going to make the difference. That’s the closest I’ll get to cup half-full.

Dest decision to stay with the U.S. significant for future

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With the shrill of the referee’s whistle on Friday night, with Sergino Dest expected to be on the field, his decision to play for the U.S. Men’s National Team will be final.

There have been plenty of dual-nationals before him and there will continue to be dual-nationals after him. But Dest’s decision to stay with the U.S. is a significant one for multiple reasons.

First, there’s the whirlwind past six months he’s had. Before the summer began, Dest was a solid member of the Jong Ajax team, which is effectively the reserve side, though it plays in the Dutch Second Division. For the U.S., he started in four of the five games for the U.S. Under-20 Men’s National Team as it advanced to the FIFA U-20 World Cup quarterfinals this past May and June, beating France U-20s along the way.

After a strong preseason, suddenly Dest found himself promoted to the Ajax first team. Then, suddenly this then-18-year-old kid was starting for Ajax, first in the Eredivisie and then in the UEFA Champions League, and he was impressing. After not noticing him or not bothering to call him in to national team camps in the past, suddenly Ronald Koeman was interested, and Ajax coach Erik ten Hag was pushing the Oranje on Dest.

While the U.S. has recruited players from Germany, England, and Mexico among other countries in recent years, it’s rare that the player hasn’t been coveted as well by the bigger – or local national team compared to the USMNT. So it says something that the USMNT is such a welcoming place that Dest felt comfortable enough when making his decision to stick with what he knew.

Also, while the Tyler Boyd decision to play for the USMNT wasn’t seen as a huge recruiting coup – he had played in friendly matches for New Zealand in the past – Dest’s decision, considering that he plays at Ajax and gets minutes in the Champions League – is on the level of the Jonathan Gonzalez deal. Gonzalez of course decided to go with Mexico, but due to a loss of form and injuries, that decision hasn’t fully panned out over the past 12 months. Dest, meanwhile, has the opportunity to cement himself as the right or left back of the future for the U.S.

A player this young is usually not put in this position where they have to choose, but Dest – with official FIFA matches coming up – basically had to make his decision this month or risk being out of the USMNT and the Netherlands for multiple training camps.

Ultimately, while Dest’s decision is a great sign for the USMNT, it’s only the start. There’s plenty of American-born players that the USMNT is losing out on, especially to Mexico. Players like Efrain Alvarez, and Gonzalez are two players who could make a difference for the U.S. moving forward, but have chosen – Alvarez for now – to play for Mexico. Other current USMNT youngsters such as Richie Ledezma, Sebastian Soto, Alex Mendez, and Julian Araujo could all potentially play for another country as well, leaving the U.S. vulnerable should they leave.

And another caveat. Dest is only 19-years old, and it’s truly impossible to predict whether he’ll be the next Steve Cherundolo for the USMNT – owned the right back slot for more than a decade – or a short-term fix before an injury or loss of form keeps him away from the team.

So U.S. Soccer is on the right track with the commitment from Dest, but it still has an awful lot to do to keep growing the USMNT player pool.

 

Berhalter: No “like-for-like” replacement for Pulisic

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U.S. Men’s National Team coach Gregg Berhalter may not be feeling any more pressure after the USMNT’s disappointing 2-0 defeat at Canada last month. But his task to beat Canada in the return match on Friday in Orlando became even more difficult with the loss of Christian Pulisic to injury.

Speaking at a pre-match press conference, Berhalter noted that there’s no one on the current USMNT team that could replace exactly what Pulisic brings – excellent dribbling, high soccer IQ, dynamic runs into the box – but they’ll need to compensate for his absence in other ways.

[READ: How will the USMNT line up v. Canada]

“When you think about his dynamic dribbling, you don’t see players like that around very much anymore.,” Berhalter said. “We’ll have to compensate with other types of skills. But what we do have is speed and physically, and we’ll want to take advantage of that. I think that will be a key component of the game.”

Even with Pulisic on the field for around an hour, the U.S. still seemed second-best, but it didn’t help when the USMNT’s best player was taken off. In the current squad, Berhalter will need to look for creativity and darting runs diagonally from players like Tyler Boyd and Jordan Morris on the wings, where they can potentially have an advantage over Canada’s outside backs.

Berhalter noted at the press conference that this week in training they’ve been focusing on bringing the intensity demanded for international soccer, as well as how to better succeed in the attacking third of the field.

“We’ve been working with the wingers, working with the attacking midfielder, having them focused on spaces we need to exploit, and being very aggressive around the penalty box,” Berhalter said. “One thing we weren’t happy with in the game in Canada was our lack of ability to get behind their backline and our lack of ability in the final third to deliver accurate crosses. We got into some good positions and didn’t take advantage of that. So, we focused on that during this week and it’s been looking pretty good.”

In some of the USMNT’s worst games in recent years, including the loss in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago and the loss in Toronto, Canada, it’s been the lack of creativity in the final third, or a lack of even setting up one-v-one opportunities in the final third that’s cost the U.S. That task becomes more difficult without Pulisic, but perhaps the USMNT can take advantage of Morris’ recent fine form, and use his speed down the left to get in behind Canada’s defense.

Sterling backs Gomez after boos were heard at Wembley

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Raheem Sterling came out in support of his teammate Joe Gomez, just a couple of days after Sterling lost his temper in practice and got into a scuffle with the Liverpool defender.

Multiple reporters at England’s 7-0 thrashing of Montenegro heard a smattering of fans boo Joe Gomez when he came on the field as a substitute. While not defensible, the boos were likely as a result of the dust-up and subsequent one-match suspension for Sterling. Unable to speak to the media after the match, Sterling took to Twitter to stand up for his international teammate.

[READ: England smash Montenegro, qualify for Euro 2020]

This is the latest example of Sterling taking the high road to deal with a tough situation. Whether it’s the boos he endures from Liverpool fans over his exit from the club, racism he’s experienced at home or abroad, and the media coverage he’s felt, Sterling has almost always offered a measured, intelligent response.

In this instance, it shows that Gareth Southgate has full control of his team and that there’s an accepting atmosphere in the squad. Sterling was obviously wrong to not let the Man City defeat to Liverpool go and to take it out on Gomez warranted the suspension. To back Gomez after he took some jeers from the crowd says a lot about Sterling’s character.

You can almost bet that the two will be on the field together as England faces Kosovo on the road this Sunday.

Euro 2020 Roundup: Ronaldo scores hat-trick, France, Turkey qualify

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The final two rounds of Euro 2020 qualification got underway on Thursday with plenty of great goals on display. Four nations qualified directly into the tournament as well, as we get closer to the final list of 24 teams.


Portugal rout Lithuania

While the result wasn’t a surprise, it was still an impressive performance from the defending European champions.

Portugal, behind a Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, thrashed Lithuania, 6-0, at the Estadio Algarve. That included this terrific strike into the corner from outside the box, bringing the crowd to their feet.

It was Ronaldo’s ninth hat-trick for Portugal, which takes him to 98 goals overall along with 12 goals for Portugal in this calendar year, an incredible strike rate. Pizzi, Goncalo Paciencia and Bernardo Silva all scored as well. With a win at Luxembourg in three days, Portugal can assure qualification back to the European Championships, where it can defend its crown.


France comes back to beat Moldova

It’s safe to say that Les Bleus fans would gladly have taken a 2-1 result over Moldova in Euro 2020 qualifying, but the journey to get there was definitely out of the ordinary.

Moldova’s Vadim Rata put the visitors up 1-0 in the 9th minute with a goal-mouth scramble after a failed clearance from by Clement Lenglet, putting France under even more pressure. France brought wave and wave of attack towards the Moldova goal, but it was a controversial goal, credited to Raphael Varane, which brought France level.

In the 41st minute, as Olivier Giroud went for a ball, it appeared Giroud motioned to control the ball with his arm, only to move it out of his way at the last second, enabling Varane to head home. Giroud made amends for missing many chances throughout the match with a penalty kick goal in the 79th minute, earned by left back Lucas Digne.

With the win, France qualified for the 2020 Euros. Also qualifying on Thursday was Turkey, England, and the Czech Republic.

Here’s a look at the rest of Thursday’s Euro 2020 qualification results.

Qualification Group A

England 7-0 Montenegro
Czech Republic 2-1 Kosovo

Qualification Group B

Portugal 6-0 Lithuania
Serbia 3-2 Luxembourg

Qualification Group H

Turkey 0-0 Iceland
Albania 2-2 Andorra
France 2-1 Moldova