The United States men’s national team failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup should signal the start of a badly needed new era for US Soccer.
Embarrassing. Inexcusable. Pathetic. Unfathomable. Pitiful. Shameful. Incomprehensible. Those are only a handful of proper and useful terms one could use to describe the United States men’s national team failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup following a loss to Trinidad and Tobago coupled with a pair of other results that bounced US Soccer from next summer’s biggest sports party before it even began.
Much can be said about how poorly the Americans played on Tuesday, but blaming one night for a nation of over 300 million people flopping so poorly in World Cup qualifying is similar to blaming Bradley Wright-Phillips for not doing enough to carry the New York Red Bulls to MLS Cup glory during his tenure with the club. It’s shows a disturbing lack of understanding of all that went wrong since the start of this process, and also of the breakdown needed to right the US Soccer ship.
Just as with most organizations, the inevitable shake-up within the USMNT begins at the top. US Soccer president Sunil Gulati will be out, perhaps before you even read this sentence, and his exit will be followed by the departure of coach Bruce Arena. Any this point, anybody even pretending to argue either man should remain employed by the program isn’t worth seconds of your time. These are obvious and easy decisions.
Their ousters are only the beginning. A panel featuring respected footballing minds — not businessmen or those who made moves from the NFL to soccer in attempts to cash in — should be convened as soon as possible to determine how US Soccer fell to such a state in 2018, and what steps need to be taken to move the program forward to where it should be considering soccer is more popular in the US today than ever before.
Various opinions must be welcomed. Taylor Twellman has a seat at the table. Alexi Lalas. Eric Wynalda. Former managers such as Arena, Jurgen Klinsmann and Bob Bradley. Julie Foudy. Jesse Marsch. Caleb Porter. Giovanni Savarese. Even outsiders like Ted Westervelt, the unofficial leader of the #ProRelForUSA Twitter movement who polarizes so many on social media, deserve to have their voices heard.
It’s time. It’s time to embrace serious and important discussions too often relegated to quick Internet hits and 140-character Tweets. It’s time to discuss the elimination of the “pay to play” system written about by Ahmet Guvener of Soccer America in September 2016 and others over the years, an initiative that undeniably does more harm than good to youth programs around the country. Yes, it’s absolutely time to talk about promotion/relegation from the very bottom of the pyramid all the way to Major League Soccer.
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Pretending the biggest choke-job in this country’s footballing history is merely a one-off does nobody any favors. Merely naming a new federation president and new national team manager is equal to putting a bandage over a wound so many of us involved in the US Soccer community watched get further and further infected. If now isn’t the time for sweeping changes, such alterations will never occur, and the US will always be behind the likes of Mexico and Europe’s top footballing countries.
Of course, nobody should forget about the players who gagged-away what should’ve been a guaranteed spot in next year’s World Cup. Recognized names such as Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard are finished with the national team after November. Building around the likes of potential superstar Christian Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and a new wave of young prospects will be the first objective for whoever replaces Arena in the manager’s chair.
The first step in solving a problem is recognizing one exists. The only way anything positive comes from this country’s top footballing disaster is if each of the issues routinely discussed by critics, journalists, observers, fans, coaches and even players is addressed one by one by knowledgeable people given authority to fix all that ails US Soccer heading into 2020.
Don’t let the dust settle. Don’t let time heal wounds. Now, when so many are left questioning cornerstones that make up the foundation of US Soccer, is when all of us, even those who watch matches on television and occasionally spend money on the product, should look within and admit it’s time to embark on a new course and a new journey that will hopefully end with the US being a footballing powerhouse in CONCACAF, at least, within ten years.
Anything less in unacceptable.