I know, I know. Last column I promised to focus on Belgium’s early 2000’s domestic soccer revamp. But last Tuesday night’s loss needs addressing. That fateful night in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) may well be considered the darkest day for U.S. soccer: after qualifying for seven straight World Cups, the U.S. Men’s National Team (USMNT) crashed out of qualifying by losing to one of the worst teams in the world.
It was T&T’s second qualifying win in 10 games; it had lost its last six qualifying matches straight, and all the U.S. needed was a draw to advance. As I’ve written time and time again, the U.S. is in need of a sharp wake-up call, and missing out on a World Cup is about the loudest one you can get.
Immediately after the loss to T&T, U.S. Soccer Federation’s (USSF) president Sunil Gulati was questioned about whether major changes will be implemented after such a devastating loss.
“You don’t make wholesale changes based on the ball being two inches wide,” he said.
But Gulati is missing the point. It’s not that the ball went two inches wide on Clint Dempsey’s shot late in Tuesday night’s game — it’s that those were how close the margins were against a team like T&T.
Wholesale changes shouldn’t be made because of a close game not going in our favor, they should be made because the USMNT was never good enough to reach the World Cup. Had the USMNT qualified as the third placed team in a group of six with only three wins, it would be more indicative of the easy qualification process than of the USMNT’s playing ability.
In other countries with any self-respect, Gulati would’ve been pressured to step down already. The USMNT has too many resources and players to fail to qualify for the World Cup, and there is no unifying philosophy or plan that necessitates Gulati staying in charge for a record fourth four-year term. If there were such a long-term plan, it would be different, but there isn’t one. Gulati must give the reigns over to someone who can galvanize a decrepit system.
Take Gulati and Bruce Arena’s disagreement on player development in the U.S., for example. After Arena’s expected resignation on Friday, Arena faulted clubs for not developing players: “Why do people think US Soccer is in charge of player development?” In another interview that same day with Gulati, the USSF president provided a startlingly different claim: “Our No. 1 priority has always been player development.” The lack of a unifying philosophy between Gulati and Arena illustrates a serious divide at the top of U.S. soccer. And if there is such a disconnect at the top, imagine all the division elsewhere in the country.
Millions of American World Cup dreams were crushed on Tuesday night. Lost revenue and fewer youth players falling in love with soccer at a tender age are only some of the repercussions. Hopefully the leaders of U.S. soccer will see the need for a comprehensive overhaul of our domestic game and will begin to pressure for the dismissal of Gulati. Until then, U.S. fans should expect only more heartbreak.