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The Disgraceful State of the USMNT

COUVA, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO - OCTOBER 10: Michael Bradley (L) and Christian Pulisic (R) of the United States mens national team react to their loss against Trinidad and Tobago during the FIFA World Cup Qualifier match between Trinidad and Tobago at the Ato Boldon Stadium on October 10, 2017 in Couva, Trinidad And Tobago. (Photo by Ashley Allen/Getty Images)

First things first, if you are looking for any sort of praise for the USMNT or a positive spin on the US Soccer vs T&T result, you have come to the wrong place. Tuesday night was the final blow that finally sent United States soccer tumbling to the mat in what was a prolonged knock out fall that we all saw coming from the beginning of the second Bruce Arena era.

The fatal blow was that the US had 27 probable outcomes that could have put the USMNT through to the World Cup, even in a playoff, but only one had the US missing the World Cup. That one possible outcome happened. The US would have to lose against a faltering Trinidad and Tobago, a team that were on a five game losing streak going into the game, and have both Honduras and Panama upset Mexico and Costa Rica respectively. Well guess what happened, the US lost, Honduras beat Mexico and Panama defeated Costa Rica, putting the USMNT officially out of the 2018 World Cup.

Without missing a beat, the dumbest argument for failing to qualify is that “we don’t have the athletes in soccer.” Really? Have you seen guys like John Brooks and Jozy Altidore? The fact of the matter is that we are just as if not more athletic than any other country when we put our players on the field. It all boils down to one thing, we are not SKILLED enough.

The American way to play soccer seems to be only one thing, play in high school, club, college, and then go pro. Why does playing professional soccer have to be always focused around NCAA eligibility in this country? If a player has the ability and talent to play at a top level at 17-18, let him play professional. Just because he would not be eligible to play NCAA soccer, does not mean that player cannot go to college and get an education in the offseason or even if professional soccer does not work out. Professionals are playing every single day and their sole concern is soccer.

An NCAA athlete, who is already about 22-23 once they turn professional, has to worry about practice, grades, and all sorts of eligibility issues. Not to mention if that same player comes out at 17-18 to play professional soccer, they will then have 4-5 years as a professional over the collegiate player. Is that our biggest issue at the moment? No. But it is something that could help the state of national team long term.

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Think about what helped Christian Pulisic. He left at 17 to become a professional at Dortmund and now at 19, he is our No. 10 and one of the lone bright spots on the rather embarrassing Men’s National Team. What if more players followed in his footsteps? There are a few players who somewhat have and are in some rather large club’s systems around the globe. Would I predict that those players are the future stars of the national team over some former college players (cough cough Jordan Morris)? Absolutely.

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I honestly sat down to write this because I could not withhold my thoughts on this disaster any longer. How does the United States of America not qualify for the World Cup with the current financial capabilities and so much talent playing in top leagues around the world? The issue does not come back to just one problem, but many problems that have hurt US Soccer for years and are now coming into the limelight. One glaring issue right away is the state of US Soccer as a whole.

Where do I even start? Sunil Gulati? Bruce Arena? Veteran players? I will get to every single one of them, but just to make things easy and start with Gulati. Gulati has been a US Soccer president who continues to look good for small things, and somehow gets a free pass for some rather large mistakes. No matter what side of the “Equal Pay” argument you are on, everyone can agree that it was a disaster for US Soccer.

The US Soccer program was shown as a program that it valued one national team over the other, with one being vastly more successful. The equal pay issue was “resolved” but there are still many issues to be worked out with it. I am not going to get into the argument because that is an article for another time. Gulati was instrumental in helping current FIFA president Gianni Infantino gain the necessary amount of votes to be elected. But what has that helped the US with? Unless the joint bid between Canada, Mexico, and the United States wins and the US hosts the 2026 World Cup, then I do not see why Gulati helped one person win so badly.

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Gulati famously gave Jurgen Klinsmann the largest contract any USMNT manager has ever received and placed him in charge of pretty much everything from youth development to obviously coaching the men’s national team. My real issue with Gulati is the time of firing Klinsmann. Why not let him see out qualifying? If I am not mistaken, Arena was hired for one reason, to qualify for the World Cup, which he did not. Klinsmann was under fire for losing the locker room (veterans) and the team showed it on the field.

Although I was a big Jurgen supporter, it was the right time to let him go. BUT, it should have been for a manager we could get excited about leading the team forward, not Bruce Arena. Gulati was responsible for not only the firing of Jurgen but also the hiring of Arena. Gulati may have not had any control of what happened on the field, but everything off of it, Gulati was fully responsible.

Jurgen Klinsmann. While it can be argued that he was not the best coach for the USMNT (insert Wambach’s laughable comments about “real Americans”), he did a fantastic job of bringing in talented players who had been ignored by managers of the past simply because they did not play in MLS. While some of these players have seemingly fallen off the face of the earth, looking at you Julian Green, he was responsible for giving Christian Pulisic and John Brooks places in the squad. Klinsmann was undoubtedly a great recruiter of dual-national players and always a good quote for the media, but he was not a good tactician or late game manager.

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The team always seemed to falter when it was late in the match and when one sub could have made the difference; he would often make the wrong choice. One thing that drove MLS fans crazy was that Jurgen almost had this blind refusal to play many MLS players, even some talented ones. Klinsmann made MLS a laughing stock and made it his goal at moments to make sure everyone took the side of US Soccer rather than MLS’ side.

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My question is why do both entities have to be enemies when things are going wrong and tied at the hip when things go right? I think Jurgen entrapped many people in the thought that no matter what happens, MLS is to blame. But it wasn’t, it was his fault. The most difficult aspect of managing the USMNT is the delicate balance of playing the seasoned veterans that often play in MLS, or the chance to give talented young players a chance to prove themselves in the National team. Klinsmann’s reign was that of reputation and the thought of what could have been. But he put the USMNT in a tight spot during the World Cup Qualifying and lost the locker room.

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Bruce Arena. When the then LA Galaxy coach was hired as the replacement for Jurgen, I thought, what a stupid hire. I stand by that. The lackluster manager seemed to only be hired on the simple basis that he had managed the USMNT before. He arrived arrogant, confident, and with his back against the wall, and that is exactly where he stayed. Arena brought in basically his entire LA Galaxy staff to complete the lackluster hire. Arena tried to make the transition easy, by making it harder than it ever needed to be. He seemed to have exiled many of the players Jurgen seemed to love picking and turned the USMNT into what seemed to be a makeshift MLS all-star side, and Pulisic.

Instead of trying to play certain tactics against certain sides to ensure victory, or at least a better chance at it, he seemed to just throw out the same players, same tactics, and sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. Against Panama, the US was able to win, but all of the strings were pulled from Pulisic. Same thing against T&T, far different result. Out of the 17 goals scored by the US in the Hex, 12 of them came directly from Pulisic’s involvement. Pulisic saved this man’s job up to this point by almost single handedly taking the USMNT into the WC.

Arena was the polar opposite of Klinsmann. He was an MLS fan through and through and thought the players could compete with anyone. I believe MLS is like any league, some are good enough, but most aren’t. Arena relied on players that have no more passion to represent the country and it showed during qualification. Brad Guzan, Clint Dempsey, and most frustratingly of all, Michael Bradley are the main culprits in my mind. Arena suffered from being in a tight spot, but his lack of excitement and seemingly unending amount of excuses, have led me to include him as one of the main issues with the current state of US Soccer.

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As of this moment, Bruce Arena is still the manager of the USMNT and I find that laughable. He was hired to qualify. He didn’t. The fact that he did not resign baffles me. If he is not fired before the end of the week, it shows exactly why US Soccer did not make it into the 2018 WC, lack of ambition.

There is no easy fix here for the USMNT. There is not just one easy thing to right the ship from this point. The US Soccer higher ups have always seemed to just do a quick “Duct-tape fix” when things spiraled out of control. But while doing those quick fixes, more issues would come up and be ignored. It was like trying to patch a leaking dam with tape. Now that the dam has burst and the issues are now glaring, it is time to completely change the course of the USMNT.

MLS and USMNT have to find better ways to develop players, give more opportunities to young players, and the USMNT has to find a coach that not only excites the fans, but the players. Until putting on the US badge has the passion behind it that it deserves and seen as an honor, not a right, the US will never rise above mere global mediocre. This completely stunts the growth that young players in the system could have had by playing on the biggest stage in the world. Young players around the country could have been inspired by what the players could have done this next summer.

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Do you really think Pulisic was not inspired or watched Landon Donovan’s famous goal? If you think that missing the World Cup is not a big deal, spare me the comments telling me so. This is a huge deal. This moment will either make or break US Men’s Soccer moving forward. Only time and the right hire of manager will see if US Soccer can get it together by the time 2022 rolls around. Time to clean house, bring back the excitement, and let the slow, painful rebuilding process begin.

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