Pick any adjective you want to describe the U.S. men’s soccer team’s 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago, a team that had lost six straight World Cup qualifiers entering Tuesday night. They all will suffice.
For the first time since 1986, the U.S. men’s national team will not be competing for the World Cup. That pothole-filled road to Russia for the World Cup 2018 is finally over.
Uninspired? Grotesque? Humiliating? Yep, those all work.
“I think the [U.S.] was a little bit complacent because it is Trinidad & Tobago, and we were already out,” Trinidad & Tobago assistant coach Stern John told USA Today. “Football is a funny game. They learned their lesson today.”
John’s dig at the U.S. isn’t wrong. Ten men — and one teenager — looked too calm and comfortable to make a difference in the match. Even after Trinidad & Tobago scored its first goal on an Omar Gonzalez own goal, there wasn’t a sense of urgency or desire to get even. By halftime, it was 2-0 and by the end of the game, it was the worst loss in U.S. men’s soccer history.
When Bruce Arena took over the reins less than 11 months ago from Jurgen Klinsmann after the U.S. found itself with zero points following devastating losses to Mexico and Costa Rica in qualifying, he knew his previous legacy as the boss of the U.S. national team was on the line. He didn’t care about his legacy, though. He knew what he had to do.
“I’m confident that we’ll take the right steps forward to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia,” Arena said at the time in a statement.
Three wins in 10 qualifying games is enough to raise questions surrounding every bit of U.S. Soccer. ESPN soccer analyst and former U.S. player Taylor Twellman delivered a fiery, long-overdue rant following the match about everything that needed to be addressed.
“The discussion after Brazil … was, ‘Can we beat the Colombias and the Belgiums and the Argentinas of the world?’” Twellman howled. “You kidding me? We can’t beat Trinidad on a field that’s too wet and too heavy? What are we doing? What are we doing?”
While Arena all but certainly will be relieved of his duties (his contract runs through the 2018 World Cup), U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati needs to take a long look in the mirror and realize the philosophies he instilled since 2006 need to be tinkered with now.
“You don’t make wholesale changes based on the ball being 2 inches wide or 2 inches in,” Gulati said after the match. “So we will look at everything, obviously, all of our programs, both the national team and all the development stuff. But we’ve got some pieces in place that we think are very good and are coming along.”
Sorry, but when you’re the one who hired the two coaches who failed to get the U.S. to the World Cup, people are going to want change.
That probably happens with Gulati out of his position as president. His term ends later this year, and while he’s eligible for a fourth and final term as president, he hasn’t said whether he will run again. As for the roster itself, shed the deadweight. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, two of the most decorated U.S. players, likely will get a farewell tour before they are ushered from the team entirely. Fringe players such as Chris Wondolowski, Graham Zusi, DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya and others likely played their last game on Tuesday.
Since he broke into the national team’s plans last year, Christian Pulisic has made a difference on the attacking end of the field. At 19, Pulisic is the centerpiece of this team for future World Cups, and it’s now his team. He showed up numerous times during qualifying, he’ll do it again.
Look toward young players who were excluded from World Cup qualifying: Chelsea defender Matt Miazga (22), who’s played well on loan at Vitesse in the Netherlands’ top league; Weston McKennie (19), a puffy-cheeked Texan midfielder who left FC Dallas’ academy and broke into the starting 11 for Bundesliga stalwart FC Schalke this season; Club Brugge goalkeeper Ethan Horvath (22) or Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen (22); Jonathan Gonzalez (18), who’s starting for Monterey in Mexico and Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams (18), who has looked like their best player all season.