Illustration by Leo Gordon
After losing to Trinidad and Tobago and failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986, United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) Coach Bruce Arena said, “There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing, to make any kind of crazy changes would be foolish. We’re building a good professional league. We have players playing abroad.”
False. This embarrassment must be a wake-up call for the USMNT, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), and the youth soccer system. It is time to clean house. The result is unacceptable and it is due to systemic issues that other countries do not have.
Just a week before the unimaginable happened in Trinidad and Tobago, Iceland, which has a population of 345,000, qualified for the World Cup. How could Bruce Arena possibly say that there is nothing wrong with the team when a country with a population smaller than Oakland’s was able to qualify?
The first bump on the road to qualification was former USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann, whose inability to stick with a formation and set of players led to two successive losses to start off the group. Bruce Arena replaced Klinsmann, but eventually finished with a record of 3-4-1 in World Cup qualifying play.
Unlike the US, other countries have a clear hierarchy of age, ability, and leadership, and players understand their roles. While the US has a star in teenage sensation Christian Pulisic, the USMNT roster is a revolving door, and the players must understand their roles better in order to play more cohesively.
Forget the specifics of the team itself. The fact that the best America has to offer is not good enough to even qualify for the World Cup is shocking. From a country that consistently gets the most medals in the Olympics and is known for the world’s best sports leagues, why does our soccer system fail us repeatedly?
While there is an answer to this question, analyzing it in 800 words is like trying to teach calculus in one class period. I’ll try anyway.
In the United States, young soccer players pay to play for their respective clubs. Other countries use polar opposite systems. Clubs invest resources into their players, with the hope that their development will lead to a high transfer fee, which will then bring more money into the club to invest. Picture someone remodeling a home in the hope that when the house is sold it will go for more money. This system incentivizes developing players, and has created international superpowers that dwarf the US.
To say that making any changes to the US soccer system would be foolish is absolutely idiotic. With time, people will realize that the US’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup was a blessing in disguise. US soccer has been presented a perfect excuse to tear down a system that has halted progress for too many years. In one of the largest countries in the world, the USMNT has no excuse.
Unfortunately, it is extremely unlikely that this will happen, so let’s take a more realistic approach.
The president of the USSF will run for reelection, and he should not be elected. Luckily, Arena resigned as head coach. This will give the USMNT a chance to hire a great coach to help the team never miss out on a World Cup again. Eventually, it will come down to the player’s commitment. As USMNT legend Landon Donovan, said, “the most disturbing part[of the US not qualifying] was the lack of urgency.”
In four years, the USMNT should have a coach that motivates the players and USSF should have a president that has remodeled the system to benefit the clubs, players, and fans. Overall, the disappointment felt by many fans should motivate the young players. The next time qualification arrives it will be Pulisic leading a team of young players with potential for greatness in many World Cups to come.