Those of you who pop through my posts every now and then know that I am generally one of 2 things when it comes to writing: very verbose, or very angry. Sometimes, I can be both simultaneously. Given the current state of US soccer, this will be one of those times.
As I sat through the US’ sadly predictable failure to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in my life on this good green Earth, I was already prepping this rant in my head. Such is my passionate hatred for US Soccer leadership and their inane attempts to bring American exceptionalism to a sport that just about the ENTIRE WORLD BESIDES US HAS ALREADY PERFECTED.
Bruce, Sunil, pundits…you’re all in the firing line here. So let’s get to it.
Bruce Arena, predictably, fails at management
Anyone with half a brain knew that the hiring of USSF old boy Bruce Arena in the wake of the Klinsmann firing was short-sighted and foolish. Bruce is an average MLS manager at best whose only real achievement in the international game came in the 2002 World Cup when he got us pretty far in South Korea. Other than that, he’s pretty much useless. He’s an MLS lapdog who prioritized using players from our inferior domestic league over the dual-nationals that Klinsmann had a decent amount of success employing.
The line-up he named last night was appalling. Omar Gonzalez is not a good defender, yet he starts and then…surprise, surprise…deflects a ball into his own net. Tim Howard is almost a billion years old and is starting to play like it; he looked more unsteady out there than I do when I put the gloves on and hop in net at Sunday league. Michael Bradley continued his reign as the premier back-passer in CONCACAF, misplacing every fourth or fifth pass per tradition. Pulisic was the only guy who looked like he cared even a little bit.
And what did Bruce do when the game started to go haywire? Well, nothing, really. He just patrolled the sidelines like a sad puppy, incapable of motivating his players at all. Such intrepid leadership from a great American manager, I’m so glad we brought him in to sulk around the touchline. Oh wait…he was brought in specifically because he’d get us to the dance you say? Ha. Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
USSF President Sunil Gulati needs to go
Bruce Arena is a joke, this is well-established by now. But who enables him? Well that would be USSF president Sunil Gulati, who hired him in the first place. Remember kids, nothing says “I’m serious about turning the US into a footballing powerhouse” like hiring a has-been manager after you fired the guy who actually had a vision to transform the game here. Gulati’s decisions at the top have been nothing short of disastrous since Klinsmann left. His prolonged willingness to tolerate Arena’s abject failure has led to US soccer hitting an all-time low in the modern era.
It is a TRAVESTY that we couldn’t qualify out of CONCACAF, arguably the softest group outside of Oceania. FIFA practically hands us a spot in the tournament every cycle because they know we’re a burgeoning soccer market that will grant them millions of excited viewers. Yet we somehow manged to lose against a country that’s been whacked by what, 3-4 major hurricanes in the last month? Those poor bastards probably haven’t had a training session without SCUBA gear since August and our boys still couldn’t beat them. It borders on the unbelievable.
Every single US soccer sycophant pundit needs to change their tune
Twitter was awfully quiet after the game. I didn’t see the usual USSF PR brigade out there trying to spin zone the most embarrassing loss in our nation’s history. Weird…anytime Klinsmann dropped points they were out for blood pretty much immediately. It’s almost as though they’re reluctant to pile on Arena because he’s the flag-bearer for the utter trash domestic league they continue to jam down everyone’s throats as an “up-and-coming” competition. Newsflash people. MLS sucks. Arena sucks. Currently, this USMNT sucks outside of a few players who, shockingly, ply their trade in Europe and not our glorified retirement league.
It seems childish to go after guys like this, because on the face of it they’re just commentators and ex-players who are fans like the rest of us. But like it or not, they shape the conversation about US soccer with the social platform they wield. Too often they use it to cast doubt over legitimate criticisms, which is seized upon by like-minded fans who then muddy the conversation about how to improve. I understand that it’s a tall order to ask these guys to get every issue correct, but they’re usually so laughably off-target that I firmly believe they do more harm than good when it comes to how the game is perceived here.
Raze the system to the ground and start over…now
US soccer has systemic problems. Poor development. Pay-to-play. Lack of viable youth academies. The college system. MLS. All of these things HAVE to be addressed if we are ever going to make progress as a soccer nation. USSF leadership fails in this regard because they treat soccer like every other sport in this country. The MLS is run like the NFL and NBA even though it’s ambition should be astronomically higher than that. Last I checked, we don’t compete against other countries in American football. The NFL isn’t serving as a feeder system for a national football team, so the bar for talent development isn’t there. Goodell can run that league solely as an entertainment and money-making entity because it is already the pinnacle of elite competition in its sport.
But we do compete with other nations in soccer. And every single one of those other nations has a proven, working system to produce top-level talent. Even those that frequently under-achieve, like England, are regularly producing talent that is magnitudes better than even our best products. Harry Kane is already better than any American ever to play the game and he’s 24 years old. Joshua Kimmich is 22 and can probably play every position on the field better than our current starters do. Why do we insist that our way is the right way when we have won NOTHING with it outside of the Mickey Mouse Gold Cup while those other nations are consistently competing for major honors?
You can tell me they have more athletes. You can tell me soccer is a bigger part of their culture. But the US has had over 3 MILLION kids involved in youth soccer annually since 2000. There are very obvious reasons we can’t find 11 good players out of a player pool that large, and I listed them all out above. Until we decide to adopt the proven developmental standards and methods of the high-caliber soccer nations we profess to want to emulate, we’ll never get anywhere.
Change or die
The solution won’t be simple. More importantly, it won’t make the MLS or youth clubs around the country a lot of money. But if we ever want to be taken seriously as a footballing nation, wholesale changes need to happen NOW.
Bruce Arena should be immediately sacked. In his place, a proven foreign manager (nobody currently in the US has the necessary experience to revamp this program) needs to come in with the absolute freedom and authority to rebuild our system in the likeness of other nations’ successful set-ups.
Gulati and MLS head Don Garber should follow Arena out the door. The college system needs to be revamped into a youth academy system where every MLS club invests in young talent, brings them in at NO COST to their families, and develops them with better-trained coaches. MLS needs to control their asinine expansion team fetish and stop diluting the quality of their league by adding more pointless franchises.
There are a ton of things we can do to make US soccer more competitive, but most of them involve making less money and focusing more on player development. For that reason alone, the vast majority have not been genuinely attempted in the last decade. We’ve essentially wasted 10 years worth of blossoming interest and player numbers because we’re more than happy to see our poor domestic league in the green every fiscal year instead of our national team edging out thrilling 1-0 wins over the likes of Portugal and England. That’s on every single individual in a leadership position across both USSF and MLS, and if we don’t completely clean house now, nothing meaningful will change.
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