LONDON — It is clear that the U.S. national team has been in quite a strange place for the last 13 months. And not good, strange.
[ MORE: Angry Pulisic hits out ]
Since Dave Sarachan took charge on an interim basis last October after the huge blow of not making the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. have played friendly and friendly and used over 50 players to try and find out whatever they can about the next crop of talent.
But what is the end game? What direction are the U.S. heading in?
Against a reserve England side at Wembley on Thursday, Sarachan’s youngsters started slowly and never fully recovered despite Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood going close to scoring in each half. They were outclassed throughout the 3-0 defeat and their play lacked a cutting edge. This result, and performance, was the most disappointing since last October. The current U.S. roster simply couldn’t cope with England’s disinterested back up team.
Subconsciously the U.S. players must feel like they’re stuck in a holding pattern until the next permanent head coach arrives. They know their efforts in training may go unnoticed and everyone will soon be starting with a clean slate.
The fans, players and everyone who watches the team want the next step now. They want to move on from the wreckage of World Cup qualification failure.
Sarachan has done all he can to push these players on and give them chances, but with so many players coming in and out of the team, the disjointed nature of the USMNT’s recent displays are to be expected.
As the reports of Gregg Berhalter set to take charge rumble on for at least another few weeks, a lack of direction appears to be hurting this team badly.
“Dave is doing what he can and obviously he wants to win these games too, just like we do,” Pulisic said. “It is going to help a lot once we get a permanent head coach, moving forward with a guy who has a real plan and a style we want to play. He is going to help us a lot.”
Pulisic is only saying what everyone is thinking.
Brad Guzan, who was the most experienced U.S. player on the pitch on Thursday with 60 caps, admitted that everyone connected with the USMNT wants this situation sorted out as quickly as possible.
“Everyone is eager to see who that is, not just the players, fans, Dave [Sarachan], everybody involved with U.S. Soccer,” Guzan said. “As a national team, of course you want that direction and whatnot but ultimately when you step across the white line to a certain extent tactics go out of the window and you have to be able to play with a bit of desire and fight. We probably showed them too much respect in the first half.”
Sarachan, to his credit, has been exceptional in his handling of this situation.
He has handed chances to young players against France, Colombia, Brazil and now England, and the way he has encouraged them to step up to the international level must be remembered a few years down the line when the likes of Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Tim Weah are in their prime.
“These fixtures are great fixtures for our young guys. There is a lot of lessons learned when you play teams like England and the form they’re in and and the way they play and the quality they have in a tough environment. It showed,” Sarachan said. “In my mind in the first half we were a little timid and allowed a little too much space, their spacing and movement was very challenging for our group. As much as we talked about it, watched and scouted England, it is still on the players to sort through that.”
Right now, the players need more support from someone they know is going to be around beyond next week. That lack of uncertainty is hurting the development of this team.
13 months on from being hired as an interim head coach, Sarachan is still in charge. This situation should have never been allowed to get to this stage. Of course, the U.S. Soccer Presidential election in February and a change of leadership impacted this situation, but USMNT General Manager Earnie Stewart, who started his new gig in August, should not have waited this long to bring in someone on a permanent basis.
The damage this ‘lost year’ will do on the USMNT long-term remains to be seen but it is clear everyone is pushing for one thing. A permanent head coach. Now.