If you’ve been following the U.S. Men’s National Team for the last few years, Tuesday’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup isn’t a total surprise.
The steps that were taken since the round of 16 loss to Belgium in Brazil set the USMNT up for failure in the long term.
There’s a myriad of issues you could point at from keeping Jurgen Klinsmann around after Brazil for another World Cup cycle to not giving enough chances to the new generation of stars that goes far beyond Christian Pulisic.
No matter what you think the main problem with U.S. Soccer is right now, we can all agree change has to be made.
The easy answers are ones we can all agree on. Bruce Arena’s time is done as manager, and Sunil Gulati’s seat is hotter than it ever has been. The older generation of players including Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley and others most likely won’t play a meaningful game in red, white and blue ever again.
With the way the new generation of stars led by Pulisic are playing, the look toward 2022 actually seems like it could be a fun ride, but the core hopefully traveling to Qatar that could feature Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Josh Sargent, Tyler Adams and many more has to learn from the mistakes made in the last few years.
The one thing missing from the American setup, especially in the debilitating Hexagonal round losses to Costa Rica and Trinidad and Tobago was the trademark fight the USMNT has shown over the past few decades. In the past, you could count on the effort and hard working attitude to at least keep the Americans in games, but that didn’t even show up in two of the most important games in the Hex, and you could argue the same mindset started to creep into the team’s psyche under Klinsmann in the 2015 Gold Cup and Copa America Centenario.
You could also argue that there was another psychological issue entering the Hexagonal round and Gold Cups as well. The thought that the USMNT could just advance off pure talent alone has evaporated during this World Cup cycle. Thanks to the growth of MLS and its investment in North American talent and the improved dearth of players across the region, qualifying for the World Cup was never going to be easy this time around and some may have taken qualification for granted.
You can’t just show up in Columbus and assume you’re going to beat your biggest rival or march into Trinidad and Tobago and know you’re going to beat the worst team in Hex. The talent gap has closed significantly where every competitive CONCACAF match has to be taken with full seriousness.
Whoever the next manager is, and we’ll debate who that actually will be quite often in the near future, also has to learn from this cycle’s mistakes in terms of development and personnel selection.
Klinsmann was never willing to bring in players he left in exile, and even Arena struggled to find the right mix at times. Even though he won the 2017 Gold Cup with an experimental side, Arena stuck with most of his veterans in September and October.
Of the players eligible for selection on Tuesday night, 13 were over the age of 30 and only four were 24 or younger. Outside of the experimental side at this summer’s Gold Cup, the roster was always tilted toward the older group of players.
Development has always been a tricky issue in the U.S. Soccer sphere and it will continue to be a hot button topic with five years until the next World Cup. But no matter where the young talent comes from, whether it be from MLS academies or from European clubs, it has to be given the opportunity to flourish and come together on the big stage.
Only a few players were able to have that luxury in the last four years. Bobby Wood, DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, Jordan Morris and of course the wonderboy himself Pulisic were thrown into the fire without hesitation, but that’s an incredibly small, yet successful, sample size. Imagine if you had the chance to develop a dozen or more players like that. We’ll never know if they’d thrive under Klinsmann or Arena, or if they were even good enough to play at the international level because most weren’t given a fair shake.
You could go into a further litany of issues that were apparent in the last few years with the USMNT program that foreshadowed this unfortunate day, but all the USMNT can do now is learn from past mistakes, get better as an organization and push forward toward 2022 with the hunger that escaped the red, white and blue after Brazil.