What Went Wrong and What’s Next for the USMNT?
On Tuesday night, the U.S. men’s national soccer team entered what seemed to be an easy victory against Trinidad & Tobago, which would qualify them for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. However, U.S. fans were stunned and disappointed to see their team lose 2-1 and fail to qualify for the greatest international soccer event on earth. It’s unclear what exactly went wrong for the Americans as they let in two easy goals and failed to take advantage of multiple opportunities.
Players received harsh criticism for their lack of effort and heart, and coaches/officials have been blamed for the loss with bad gameplans and poor leadership. With the team failing to make it to the World Cup for the first time since 1986, many are asking what this means for the future of U.S. soccer. With the United States having one of the biggest professional soccer markets in the world, nobody knows why the Yanks can never develop enough talent to be internationally competitive.
The U.S. Soccer Federation, which oversees the national team and youth programs, has put a considerable amount of money and resources into recruitment and scouting for the national team, yet the national team has not been good in years. The United States’s market for soccer talent and spending exceeds Trinidad & Tobago’s by miles, and the U.S. still was unable to finish the job.
A possible explanation for the U.S.’s recent lackluster success is the less talented wave of players that have been discovered. In many sports like soccer, basketball, and football, it is not uncommon to see waves of young talent come through to the professional level.
Another possible explanation refers to “pay for play” in the United States. Many soccer insiders have argued that the cost for kids to play soccer in the U.S. is too high, which limits the amount of athletes to be examined, and talent of those who may be impoverished or not able to play due to cost may never be seen by scouts. Many believe the U.S. is missing out on potentially fantastic players who may not be receiving the training and competition they should be.
Another explanation is that soccer is lacking popularity and culture compared to sports like basketball, football, and baseball, which are thriving here in the United States. The truth is that the most popular American athletes play either football, basketball, or baseball, and not soccer. These three sports are constantly growing and gaining popularity with young people who idolize these athletes, creating a culture different than soccer. In many European and South American countries, soccer is the most popular sport which gives their players and teams a clear advantage.
As for what is next for the USMNT, nobody is sure. With the team absent in the World Cup in 2018 and the Gold Cup in 2019, that leaves twenty months of almost no official competition. That means only camps and friendlies for almost two years, which could lead to a “dark age” for U.S. soccer. The last time the American men went a year without a competitive match was 1987. For many fans, this is the worst of American soccer they have ever seen. I discussed with soccer fan Alec Pompeo about his thoughts on the national team’s failures. “It’s absolutely unacceptable. The U.S. should never have even been in that position to barely qualify, let alone lose. I believe majority of the blame should be put on the coaching staff and management. To avoid this again, the USSF needs to focus on developing youth players, and making soccer more affordable so that we can accumulate as much talent as possible”, Pompeo explained.
As for personnel changes, it is expected that head coach Bruce Arenas will not be on the job much longer. The most obvious choice for replacement is Tab Ramos, who has been the U-20 team manager for 6 years. Veteran stars Clint Dempsey (forward) and Tim Howard (goalie) are not expected to return to the squad in 2019. Other players may be close to the end of their international careers too such as Nick Rimando, Omar Gonzalez, and Damarcus Beasley. As for lost talent, there is still hope left. Rising star Christian Pulisic will return and become a centerpiece for rebuilding. Pulisic is believed to be the newest true American soccer star to emerge since David Beckham and Landon Donovan. Regardless of whoever the next coach will be and what players will return, it is important to realize the road to rebuilding the national team will be long. Although the future may not be the brightest, soccer fans should stay positive as there is no way U.S. soccer could get any worse.