Commentary

Reaction to U.S. World Cup debacle: Time is now for change at top

American soccer woke up Wednesday morning from a community-wide nightmare.

Was it real, asked Ives Galarcep of Goal.com? Yes, it was.

But by midday on Wednesday afternoon, just about everyone who witnessed the Couva collapse chimed in on the match and its aftermath.

The game analysis is the easy part: Bruce Arena and his players blew it.

'This was a choke job of historic proportions.'  "Overall, it was easily the worst-coached match of Arena's national team career, and it came at the worst possible time," wrote Galarcep. Added Brian Straus of SI.com, "This was a choke job of historic proportions that put paid to the idea that the USA inevitably rises to the occasion. This is a team that was congratulating itself for predecessors’ accomplishments."

This was a team with its backs against the wall from the beginning of the Hex, a team so fundamentally flawed that a coaching change  -- Arena for Jurgen Klinsmann -- in the middle of the Hex couldn't solve. The blame? "It starts with USSF president Sunil Gulati and his handpicked coaches, Klinsmann and Arena. All bear massive responsibility," wrote Straus.

For the 620,000 beIN Sports and Universo viewers of the U.S. exit from the 2018 World Cup in a tiny stadium in Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday night, watching was torture.

"The most disturbing part for me was the lack of urgency displayed," Landon Donovan said on the Dan Patrick Show. "We all know in sports anything can happen, you can lose games, that's all part of it, but the lack of urgency to really understand what was at stake was really disheartening for me, and, candidly, it was really hard to watch."

'There’s no royal road, unless you’re Brazil or Germany.' Stefan Szymanski, a University of Michigan professor and author of “Money and Soccer," said the randomness of soccer -- a low-scoring sport -- is what makes it so maddening.

“This is what being a soccer fan is like,” Szymanski told the New York Times. “You’re prone to the extreme event all the time. There’s no royal road, unless you’re Brazil or Germany.”

Reaction from American players in MLS was just beginning to come in. “Massively disappointing,” Atlanta United's Michael Parkhurst told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Shock. Disbelief." Teammate Jacob Peterson defended the players’ desire if not the urgency Parkhurst saw was lacking. “I know that all of them care,” he said. “They would do anything to make the World Cup. I can guarantee that all of those guys are devastated.”

'The loss is a disaster for Fox Sports.' In 2013, it was suggested it would cost Mexico $600 million if El Tri didn't qualify. It went through four coaches in two months, made the intercontinental playoffs thanks to the USA's 3-2 win over Panama in the final game of the Hexagonal and easily beat New Zealand. Mexico did not return the favor on Tuesday night, leaving everyone scrambling to quantify the costs of not qualifying.

Mexico could see the trouble coming a mile away. No one here ever imagined the USA couldn't get a result at T&T. "It is not a good look or feeling," Fox Sports analyst Alexi Lalas told BBC World Service. "It will have repercussions."

It's hard to quantity the financial cost to Fox Sports, the English-language rights holder of the World Cup for the first time, but not having the USA in the tournament will cost it millions of viewers of the U.S. games it can't make up elsewhere. Noted SI.com's  Richard Deitsch, "Hyperbole is the drug of choice these days in the sports media but the loss is a disaster for Fox Sports. Disaster. That is the correct word."

One critical word Deitsch used is "momentum" as in the World Cup is a "momentum tournament," building interest in the USA as each game is played. Just as critically is the buildup to the tournament, the seven months between the draw and opening games a nation has to get ready.

That was one of the arguments Gulati, a member of the FIFA Council, had made in explaining why he supported the expansion of the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 in 2026. The buildup to the tournament is as important for soccer in a country as the week or two or four its team is in the tournament.

We'll get to see just what it is like to not have that buildup over the seven months from the draw to the finals.



'He just shouldn’t be the U.S. Soccer president anymore.' A lot of the criticism of Gulati and Arena came from comments they made after the game. Arena: "Nothing has to change." Gulati: "You don’t make wholesale changes based on the ball being two inches wide or two inches in."

SI.com's Grant Wahl said those comments summed the essence of the problem: "U.S. Soccer's resistance to calls for new ideas and strategies." He argues that Gulati could still have a role to play as chairman of the United World Cup bid committee and member of the FIFA Council. But Wahl writes, "He just shouldn’t be the U.S. Soccer president anymore. U.S. Soccer won’t get many obvious opportunities to make the necessary changes to join the modern era. The time is now."

25 comments about "Reaction to U.S. World Cup debacle: Time is now for change at top".
  1. Ray Lindenberg , October 11, 2017 at 10:55 p.m.

    The time to reboot and manufacture our own brand of American, pure soccer is now. We were gifted the perfect excuse and inflection point yesterday when we were served up a humbling batch of Island Punch courtesy of the Soca Warriors who transformed us into ‘Soccer Worriers’ … and then ultimately, losers in our self-imposed game of Russian Roulette.

    We need to stop this charade of wishing ourselves onto the bottom rung of the world cup totem pole, and hoping for some underdogging miracle, and instead put on our big boy pants on and take a whole new attitude and approach to how we’re going to forge our way to the head of the pack … similar to how the USWNT did it, starting with the belief that could … yeah … why not!

    We have to stop just ‘playing’ soccer, and instead ‘create’ soccer – or more precisely, ‘create’ our own new brand and reality. If we’re gonna play second fiddle for the next 5 years, let’s be bold and devote ourselves to being Itzhak Perlman.

    No more chop-chop kickball, and settle for mimicking the stuff that FIFA is showcasing around the world. We have the resources, resourcefulness and athletic chops … what we need now is the verve and the nerve. We need to go the full monty with some free-flowing, weaving, touch-passing, space-creating soccer magnificence, with a shmear of typical American ingenuity and irrational exuberance.

    We need to re-write the book and our expectations, the way that John Wooden’s UCLA Bruins and Red Holtzman’s New York Knicks eschewed the methodical play of the day and demanded poetry-in-motion of themselves … or how The Canadiens of the 70’s and Oilers of the 80’s created ice and breathtaking mayhem, and turned their 6-at-a-time shifts into a seemingly unfair 10-at-a-time ordeal through their touch-and-go, owning-the-flow ice hockey.

    We need to be committed Total Footballers, the way Rinus Michels molded his Dutch Masters before they regressed into being English stop-and-go traffic habitues again. Over the next 5 years we need to draw a line and have Christian Pulisic uphold a minimum skill standard for our MNT players … and develop an Andreas Pirlo, Carlos Valderrama, Yaya Toure, Mohamed Elneny and Thiago Silva, so that they can feed and make shine the American Cruyffs, Beckenbauers, Maradonas, Zidanes, Platinis, Peles and Messis that they will produce.

    If we’re gonna come up short again, let it be because we were consumed by pursuing the ultimate, simple, weaving and flowing, jogo bonito; and not because we were a quart low on struggling for a final spot on a weaker regional hexagonal. What the ‘hex’ was that yesterday, anyway?

  2. David Trapp replied, October 12, 2017 at 6:52 a.m.

    Very well-written response.  I agree that American soccer should take the next step; whatever style we create, anything would be better than Tuesday night's debacle.  Failure is a great motivator for those of us who hate to fail.  Gulati?  You have to go.  Thank you for overseeing the growth and interest in soccer, but it's time for new blood.  Donovan, what about you, dude?  Think you could handle it?

  3. mark courtney replied, October 12, 2017 at 12:11 p.m.

    Nice idea Ray but it will never happen. Years ago I befriended a very interesting fellow that has world class experience concerning Soccer. As a kid he watched Pele and later was a pioneer involving tactical analysis. Analyzing data by watching videos of games over and over in the 70’s. Later he worked with 5 National teams for Workd Cup play. He told me early on that the US is 50 years away from serious WC contention. I found it incredulous at the time. Well ... a decade later I believe him. Maybe it’s only 40 years now though. 

    I see locally that those that control most  every aspect of our youth development are basically inept. The “gatekeepers” so to speak. No reason to get into ALL the reasons here but this wil not change. 

    You can can look up Tom Howe’s past article for Soccer America and he illustrates the exact reasons. That was in 2011 but will still be relevant in another decade. 

    So changing the guard is a must and then the next must is seeing natural “free play” on a daily basis. 

    Anerican kids are spending too too much time is cars traveling to all these games yet never get out and spend time with the ball spending hours getting fun, relaxed and creative touches. Small sided mixed aged competent games also do not exist. 

  4. Kent James, October 11, 2017 at 11:13 p.m.

    While Arena and Gulati are right that a ball not crossing the line in Panama counting as a goal is not a reason to suddenly change everything you've been doing, it is time for both to move on.  One would hope that any good ideas for player development people can come up with would be implmented as fast as possible (and as broadly as possible), regardless of the poor result at T&T (though getting rid of pay for play might be a suitable radical change, I'm just not sure if the poor result will make that any easier to do).  But one thing elimination gives us the chance to do is to develop a young national team, and retire many of our veterans who will clearly not help us in 2022.  It may be useful to keep some of them to mix in with the new guys (or maybe not, it's worth trying it both ways), but my hope is this will give us the kick in the rear that will help us make the next step.

  5. Mark Walker, October 11, 2017 at 11:23 p.m.

    More than 24 hours have passed and Gulati and Arena are still in their jobs. That, in a nutshell, is why will not succeed as a soccer nation.

  6. Gary Miller replied, October 12, 2017 at 12:01 a.m.

    Arena's contract is up and Gulati is a president of a federation. He cannot be fired. Would have to be impeached more or less and the only way that would happen is if he was accused or convicted of doing something illegal. There is an election in 2018 that, fingers crossed, he most likely will lose. In previous elections he ran pretty much uncontested but I'm willing to bet, after this debacle, that will change. 

  7. Gary Miller, October 11, 2017 at 11:49 p.m.

    All I know is I'm done with US soccer and it's celebrating mediocrity. EPL here I come. I don't have a favorite team yet but I have become a fan of underdogs after watching the US all these years. Tottenham? Crystal Palace? Everton? Any suggestions?

  8. Winston Stewart replied, October 12, 2017 at 8:24 a.m.

    Try one of the newly promoted teams.

  9. Gus Keri replied, October 12, 2017 at 11:48 a.m.

    Liverpool has been an underdog in the EPL for 27 years now. Just saying. 

  10. James Madison, October 12, 2017 at 12:07 a.m.

    It's difficult to blame Arena.  He was all that was available and willing to take over from the JK disaster.  The time is now to (a) clean house, beginning with Gulati and the over-age and under-qualified players and (b) implement a unified preparatory program.  If Iceland can do it, so can the United States.  We lack, but desperately need a combination of technical and ltactical skill and passion.

  11. Allan Lindh replied, October 12, 2017 at 10:14 p.m.

    Arena left Geoff Cameron, who starts for an EPL team at CB, sitting on the bench.  CB errors led to two TT goals.  Did you see Cameron sitting on the bench at the end, head in hands?  He is our best defender, and was on the bench.  Nuff said.  Sorry Bruce, that was a bonehead move, and you should fall on your sword.  The harder question is who should be the next head coach?  Peter Vermes might be ready, Tab Ramos is an obvious choice -- but no track record of note.  And  who do we have to run US Soccer?  No names exactly jump out at me, anyway.  Easy to see who needs to go.  Do we even have soccer brains fit to make those two crucial calls???  If this was a business (actually it is) an outside review committee would be in order -- outside in the sense that all the members come from outside the US.  Pay em real bucks to assess the situation and make recommendations.  The ship is taking water and wandering off course, and "We" clearly don't know what we are doing.

  12. R2 Dad, October 12, 2017 at 12:09 a.m.

    What I've heard come out of these discussions is that USSF and MLS no longer need to be joined at the hip; it's only benefitting MLS. IF Gulati doesn't have the huevos to break up with Garber, time for him to step aside (and dissasociate himself from SUM as well).

  13. Aris Protopapadakis, October 12, 2017 at 12:21 a.m.

    As folks rent their garments over the "shocking" elimination of the USA, it might help to do a reality check. For the last coupe of years both Mexico and Costa Rica had teams superior to the US. Costa Rica showed its progress in the last world cup, and several players from both teams play and start in Europe. Realistically, the US was playing for third place. But the US could have nonetheless played better in a couple of games and squaked through.
    Some of the key players are getting old and they returned from Europe to a physically, technically and emotionally less demanding environment. They couldn't muster the energy after the Panama game to go at it again in a heavy field. They looked like they surrendered from the beginning.
    Even though lots of people were indignant when Klinsman suggested that to play at the highest level you have to play in a European top team, no amount of bluster and breastbeating changes that reality. Top teams in Europe routinly prepare their players to play every four days; not in the MLS.
    I think it is true that new leadership is needed but we need new leadership with a different attitude, and a different understanding of what constitutes top level soccer; hint: the answer is not in English coaches, tactics or referees.

  14. Kenneth Goldman, October 12, 2017 at 6:46 a.m.

    The problem that the USA national team will have shortly is the same that befalls England's teams and that is the influx of foreign players. In England the Manager/coach has only 35% or less English players to choose from for his International squad. Despite great results at lower/junior levels those players are not getting into the first teams of their clubs.Further although England manage to qualify for almost all the tournaments they go out quickly when they get there.
    The USA has done a great job in bringing through its grass roots players and building up Soccer in America, it should be careful to ensure that foreign players do not dominate its leagues, since the fewer the choice of players for the national side the greater the chance of failure either to qualify or to stay in the competition.

  15. Gary Allen, October 12, 2017 at 8:08 a.m.

    While it is tempting to blame it all on the coaching and lack of nerve by the players, the fact is that we have always barely scraped into the World Cup by the skin of our teeth.  Sure, there is fault at the top, but predominately the crux of the issue is our youth development,  for which the top deserves a large shame of blame.  However, we all must recognize our role as the adult shapers of our youth programs.  Our scosity's focus always on results at each level leaves little room for the inefficient experimentation from which true development emerges. Think about it, if Brazil entered two teams into the World Cup, both would probably reach the second round.  In any given World Cup, if the US lost three players they probably would not even qualify.  Why?  Because we lack any depth of play.  While it is true that a few American players over the years have risen above the fray, it is safe to say that none have been world class players, i.e., players that could start on any team in the world at their favored position.  It is because our general level of play that is truly lacking.  The technical level of our players and speed of play are below much of the rest of the world.  Why is it that countries with virtually no organized youth programs have players that generally are so much better technically and tactically than our players?  They play in the streets, they play informally, they experiment as young players, they react and adapt to the conditions around them without all of the choreography and supposed purposeful training by coaches that our young players endure.  This amount of just playing the game ingrains a technical and tactical speed of play upon which to build.  Plyers are free to try things, emulate others without fear of being benched for mkaing mistakes when they experiment with something new.  Just imagine basketball in the US there were no street basketball.  Do you think we would dominate the rest of the world?  Hardly.  We need to focus on developing, or more appropriately, allowing our young players develop, in less adult-structured and adult-choreographed environments before the age of 14 to raise the general level of play.  We need to include more players without trying to find the most "elite" as young as age 9. When we focus on that, rather than always trying to form the latest elite-type of youth academies or leagues, we will go a long way to raising the level to which our best players need to rise to be the cream of the crop.  Is it a quick fix or easy?  No, but nothing truly deep and lasting ever is.  

  16. Andrew Kear, October 12, 2017 at 8:39 a.m.

    It will not make a difference at this point. Like General Motor US soccer will have to go bankrupt to change. Heck, the US may not qualify in 2022. Iceland has now replaced the US has the up and coming soccer power. If he had any character Gulati would step down. 


     


    To tell you the truth I saw this coming long ago.

  17. F. Kirk Malloy, October 12, 2017 at 9:10 a.m.

    Of course Gulati and Arena must go. Their resignation letters should have been submitted by 8AM yesterday. Have they no shame?
    Sure, there are random breaks of the game.  A ball 2 inches here or there. It's the nature of the sport. But complacency, indifference, lack of effort with so much on the line? That is 100% on the leaders. With 15 minutes to go, and their fate 100% still in hand, players, supposed leaders on the pitch, walking around mid-field like it's a Sunday league scrimmage. Truly unforgetable and unforgivable.
    But let's forget the T&T game (please), 12 total points in qualifying?
    This is simple. The leadership of USMNT has one job every 4 years. Make, at least make, the World Cup. You failed. Resign. 

  18. M S, October 12, 2017 at 10:07 a.m.

    Brazil and Germany simply have higher standards. They dont let common sense and success of their national teams and pride take a backseat to money and profits. That simple. In those countries the head coach and president  would have already resigned out of pure dignity.
    2 Inches wide? Really?

  19. Kris Spyrka replied, October 12, 2017 at 10:54 a.m.

    That's right.

  20. Kris Spyrka, October 12, 2017 at 11:01 a.m.

    This might ruffle some feathers, but...  If Pulisic and the new kid at Schalke ever want to play in a  World Cup as young adult men, they may want to consider settling down in Germany, finding a German wife and applying for citizenship there.  Given the current USMNT trajectory, given that Gulati and Arena have not resigned yet shows there is no intent to improve.  The rebuilding for '22 needed to start yesterday.

  21. Nick Daverese replied, October 12, 2017 at 9:42 p.m.

    Christen can never be a German citizen even if he married a German wife. My daughter married a German she can never become a German citizen either. Their son my Grandson Henry aka Henrich is a German and he can also be an American Citzen. But not Christian that is the way German law works. 

  22. Mark Calcat, October 12, 2017 at 1:04 p.m.

    This is probably my 12th post calling for the ouster of Gulati. Blaming Arena is silly, this train was already derailed when he was asked to take over. Gulati has been a mistake machine for over a decade and has overseen the demise of both the MNT and WNT.  They should pay Hope Solo help him clear out his office (don't worry, she will not drop anything since, at the least at the time Sunil fired her, the best goalkeeper in the world).

  23. Ray Lindenberg , October 12, 2017 at 4 p.m.

    .To the comment that: "I would rather back into the world cup and go 3 and out in Group play than not have world cup soccer for 8 years" --  nobody wants to be on the outs when it comes to the signature moment of the sport they are passionate about. But the real question is: A) would a false sense of standing and true, collective ability serve us well? In other words, if we're generally going on a wrong track, should we be satisfied with just being on that track? And B) what is the right catalyst to getting on the right track -- hanging in here and limping along with a bad product, or getting a kick in the pants and feeling the reality check that gets us to realize that we gotta get cranking … get on a much more superior track … and quick?

     


    I suggest that we have been going nowhere slowly, with the national game plan we got. Christian Pulisic should've been the phenom du jour, and set the standard to build even greater talents, in 1994, not 2017. By now, with all the resources, raw talent and other advantages we have as a resourceful sporting and media-rich nation, we should be a perennial powerhouse at each World Cup, instead of putzing around with a flimsy qualification wish, on a dot on the Caribbean map that would have had more spectators attend a Soca festival than at national Soccer match.


    The T&T experience wasn't a fiasco as much as it was a blatant expose and confirmation that there is something rotten in Denmark. We need a major attitude change in our approach, expectations and especially our standards.


    We need to be an Americanized version of Brazil or Germany, in that regard -- and there's no reason why we can't be (even with the distractions of all the other sports in our sandbox … we did it with hockey, didn’t we?), but we first determine that we want to be super. We gotta be gazelles, not turtles, on the fast-track road to soccer supremacy. What the quick-sands of T&T underscored for us is that we got a heckuva lot farther way to go than we've been willing to admit.


    We need to create a whole new fresh, dynamic, breathtaking brand of true, free-flowing, imaginative, dynamic, American Jogo Bonito … and put an end to relying on this staccato, mish-mosh that we see on ESPN, GOL TV, etc. as being our North Star.


    But we can't do it if we're complacent and accept a hand-me-down product. It's not what happened at T&T that's our bugaboo ... it's what we'll turn into if we don't wake up and take a radical new path now that we got our marching orders, that really matters at this stage. We need to be more audacious and dare ourselves to be great in our soccer-ing … no more chop-chop kickballing … no settling … no settling.

  24. James Madison, October 13, 2017 at 1:14 a.m.

    It's long past time for an organized and focused effort.  If Iceland can, why not the USA?

  25. Ben Myers replied, October 13, 2017 at 10:55 p.m.

    Iceland has only 330,00 people to organize.  The US has 300 million and the wonder of CTE-inducing American football to distract too many people.  Still, there's gotta be a way to organize American soccer, because it can;t any worse, Gulati!

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