The rage was flowing in the wake of the U.S. men's national team's cataclysmic loss to Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday night. The U.S. will not compete in the men's World Cup for the first time since 1986 and there was plenty of righteous indignation to go around over that fact. Immediately after the loss, former USMNT player and current ESPN soccer analyst Taylor Twellman became an avatar for furious American fans when he went on SportsCenter and erupted into a rant that hit to the core of what most fans were feeling in the moment.
The thesis of the rant: What the hell are we doing? What the hell is wrong with us?
Here's the full Taylor Twellman rant: pic.twitter.com/3YOAQrTKmY- Max Wildstein (@MaxWildstein) October 11, 2017
Those are two difficult questions to answer, and as cathartic as Twellman's diatribe was -- both for him and us -- it was heavy on rage and light on solutions. We can be angry for a while, but the sooner we can cure, or at least treat, what ails American soccer, the better.
The USMNT's failure to qualify for the World Cup wasn't the result of one thing that went wrong that we can fix and make everything hunky-dory. It was a confluence poor decisions and poor form going back years. Frankly, as much as talent is a problem for the U.S. in a global sense, there is much more individual talent in America than any other CONCACAF nation, except Mexico. Lots has to go wrong to create the perfect storm that sweeps us out of a World Cup spot.
That includes issues such as pay-to-play. Soccer is one of the most expensive sports for young Americans to play, despite the fact that you only need a ball to get a game going. With many low-income Americans priced out of engaging in the sport, we've shrunk a huge part of our talent pool. That's led to failures in U.S. Soccer's national youth set-up. Since 2011, the U.S. has failed to qualify for a U-17 World Cup, a U-20 World Cup and two Olympic Games (Olympics are U-23 tournaments.) That's a lot of quality international action missed by players that should now be the backbone of the senior team. Instead, it created what American Soccer Now's Brian Sciaretta has called U.S. Soccer's "missing generation."
These systemic issues must be fixed if American soccer is going to reach the heights fans dream of. But they're only part of the solution; the macro part.
Then there's the senior national team itself. First and foremost, Bruce Arena has to go. I was of the mindset that he was always a caretaker manager and should have been dismissed after the 2018 World Cup, regardless of his results. Now that the USMNT won't even be in Russia, it only makes sense to clear him out and start over. While he did have some good moments as manager in his second stint with the team, you can place a lot of blame on him for the poor results in 2017.
The U.S. rarely, if ever, managed to string together two good performances in a row, as exemplified by the 4-0 beatdown of Panama Friday and the 2-1 loss to Trinidad Tuesday. Arena made the grave mistake of using the same 11 starters in both the Panama and Trinidad matches. The U.S. players were clearly tired and not mentally prepared after an exhilarating win they thought had virtually punched their tickets to Russia. Fresh legs across the pitch could have helped avoid this disaster.
Arena also far too often played players based on their potential for performance rather than their mean performance. He'd throw a guy such as Michael Bradley on the pitch every match, knowing that if Bradley plays as well as he's capable of, he'll have a damn fine match and we'll probably win. But those top performances from Bradley have been rare for more than a year. At some point, Arena needed to stop hoping for the best and instead start preparing for the worst. That was one of his fatal flaws. Considering all that, there's no sensible reason to keep Arena on a minute longer.
(By the way, I've seen a lot of fans say this disaster absolves Jurgen Klinsmann for his problems while the head of the USMNT. And while I agree that the problem has always been seeded deeper than him, let's not kid ourselves into thinking he didn't play a large role in putting the USMNT in this situation. His poor management in 2016 laid the roots, and he deserves a portion of the blame. We've already tossed him aside and he ain't coming back, though, so there really isn't much of a point in getting introspective about how much blame to allot him.)
Finding the next USMNT is a tricky proposition in itself. One option is to look in Major League Soccer for a guy such as Peter Vermes of Sporting KC or Tata Martino of Atlanta United, but, honestly, there are no obvious candidates. The key will be finding a coach who doesn't play favorites. Klinsmann always reportedly favored players who played club soccer outside America, while Arena was pretty much the opposite. Neither of those approaches worked. We need someone who doesn't play favorites and can coach young players, because there is about to be a forced youth movement in U.S. Soccer.
Another person who needs to go: USSF president Sunil Gulati. As the head honcho of American soccer, all those systemic problems I mentioned earlier fall on his shoulders. He never addressed them, and now we're in the mess we're in. He also made the mistake of hiring Arena, a coach who was fired more than a decade ago because he didn't get the results we wanted. Going to the well a second time was foolish.
Gulati won't be axed like Arena, but there's still a good chances he's out. USSF president is an elected position, and the next election is in February. Gulati has run unopposed the last two cycles, but considering this disaster, there will likely be a gaggle of hopefuls to run this time in an effort to unseat him. If he is elected, term limits that he created mean it will be his final term as president.
In my opinion, the sooner Gulati's gone the better. Both with the USMNT and USWNT, he has shown a poor track record of hiring coaches, and I don't want him involved in picking the next coach to lead the American men. But even if he isn't elected or decides not to run, he won't disappear from the U.S. Soccer setup. He's leading the North America bid for the 2026 World Cup and will be a fixture in those talks until a decision is made.
That leads us to the most difficult and emotional part of the accounting following this loss: the players. There are simply too many players who have no business being on the senior team anymore, and are only there because there was no apparent successor to their position. I'm talking about players such as Bradley, Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey; players who American fans love because they have done (relatively) great things with the USMNT. We'll always have those memories, but it's time to say goodbye.
Those and others like them have kept their places because of the aforementioned "Missing Generation" and because, even with their myriad flaws, they seemingly gave us the best chance to accomplish our goals (i.e. qualify for the World Cup). With that out the window, we have a long gap until any competition of relevance surfaces. In that time, we need to be blooding young players for the future of this squad. Build around Christian Pulisic and get players such as Matt Miazga, Emerson Hyndman, Josh Sargent, Jonathan Klinsmann and Ethan Horvath not just in the squad, but in the starting lineup. If they aren't yet ready, match time will get them ready. We're not playing for anything for quite a while, so we might as well begin preparing ourselves for a better future. I love and have tons of respects for guys such as Bradley, Howard and Dempsey, but I don't want to see them in USMNT shirts again unless it's for an international retirement where we can give them a proper farewell.
There is no easy fix for American soccer. We have to start doing a whole lot of things better from the grassroots all the way up to the U.S. Soccer executive suites. Nothing can be held sacred and everything must ready for change. Not change tomorrow and not change in a few years; change now. There's a long way to go.
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Cy Brown writes about football, golf, soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.