Any dreams the United States had of going to the 2018 World Cup were smashed Tuesday night. The Americans played an awful match against Trinidad and Tobago, while Honduras and Panama were inspired in their quest for a berth in the world’s biggest event. Given how the U.S. performed throughout qualifying, the reality is the Americans didn’t deserve to reach the World Cup.
All throughout qualifying the Americans were listless, uninspired and played as if they took qualification for granted. Too often the team came out playing not to lose and wound up doing just that. Even the switch from Jurgen Klinsmann to Bruce Arena didn’t change that, as the same issues continued to arise.
On Tuesday night all the Americans had to do was earn a draw against a Trinidad team that had just one win and eight losses in the nine games during the final round of qualifying. Instead of looking like a team on the verge of securing a berth, the Americans looked like the guys who had no business being there. And now, for the first time since 1986, the United States will miss the World Cup.
An early own-goal from Omar Gonzalez solidified his status as a guy I never want to see suit up for the team again, and Trinidad added another goal before the half to take a 2-0 lead. Even some magic via a goal from Christian Pulisic in the 47th minute couldn’t save the U.S. as they lost 2-1.
This was a disaster from start to finish. If you can’t beat Trinidad with a World Cup berth on the line, you didn’t deserve to be playing in that match to begin with. In the end, the United States finished fifth out of six in the final CONCACAF qualifying group. The level of embarrassment everyone associated with U.S. Soccer should be feeling right now is incalculable.
Arena has plenty of questions to answer, first among them is why Gonzalez was starting at center back with Geoff Cameron on the bench? Luckily, this is almost certainly the last we’ll see of Arena as the U.S. men’s national team coach.
The visual seared into my mind from Tuesday’s match will be virtually the entire team walking around or lightly jogging to spots when the match was in the 80th minute. There was no urgency, no desperation, no one looking to make something happen. It was as if the team felt the result didn’t matter.
Maybe this is what U.S. Soccer needed. Maybe the Americans needed to fail so badly that it would actually change things. Sunil Gulati has been the head of the federation since 2006, and it’s time for new blood. The fact that he brought in as unimaginative a coach as Arena to try and fix things speaks volumes about his decision-making.
It’s time for the U.S. to boot the old guard and start turning things over to younger players. Tim Howard’s time has passed. Clint Dempsey can’t be relied upon heavily anymore. DaMarcus Beasley got his first cap during the Garfield administration. Michael Bradley has not shown himself to be a dynamic leader as the team’s captain and his play in key moments during qualifying hurt the team.
In addition to those issues, fringe guys who have regularly cost the team in big moments need to be excised for good. Gonzalez should never suit up again. Graham Zusi is not a defender and should never play there for the U.S., and Chris Wondolowski should never get another call-up, with so many better options out there.
The future of the U.S. national team needs to be built around Pulisic and Bobby Wood in the attacking third. Meanwhile, guys like Matt Miazga, Cameron Carter-Vickers and DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks need to be the future of the back-line. Kellyn Acosta needs to play more, as do a laundry list of other young guys.
It’s time to throw the kids into the deep end and let them swim. Bring in a new federation head, a coach with an actual long-term vision. Stop insisting on plugging in MLS retreads when there is actual talent out there waiting to be used.
Failure usually brings change and it should here. If there’s one positive from this massive embarrassment, it’s that maybe things will finally change.
From top to bottom, U.S. Soccer needs fixing. It’s time this country started taking the world’s biggest sport seriously.