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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Reboot: USA's only choice after failing to qualify for Russia 2018

The United States Men's National Team miserably crashed out of the qualifiers after falling to Trinidad and Tobago by a score of 1 - 2. This loss, combined with wins by both Honduras and Panama, meant the USA sat at 5th place in Concacaf and would thus not proceed to the Russia 2018 World Cup.

There are lessons to be had, for sure. And plenty of blame. Was it Arena's fault? The defense? Sunil Gulati and US Soccer? MLS? 

Actually, it was a combination. Yesterday's game was not lost by the defense. The young Trinidadians shots came from distance, dramatic, wonders of soccer. Not even the best of goalkeepers could keep those shots away.

It was the formation used by Arena, the lack of focus that was so present versus Panama, not understanding the fact that they were always supposed to be the better team. Pulisic, bright as he was, could not muster enough magic. Dempsey, ever the master of moments, was denied by the posts. Bradley and Altidore, veterans of so many fights, complicated by the moment.

I hate to admit it, but Klinsmann's call for more "nastiness" is something the US Soccer program requires. And, as Taylor Twellman put it: it's everyone's fault, including the media.

Soccer is no street sport here. It's an expensive undertaking. MLS is bigger and ever more diluted than it was just a decade ago. Our players are mostly domestic, a clear disadvantage in international play. What happened to the Romas, Tottenhams, Villarreals of yesteryear? 

A reboot is what is needed. From the bottom up. US Soccer should follow what Germany did after losing in the semifinals in 2006 and what Brazil did after failing so miserably in 2014.

So, everyone needs to sit down and acknowledge the situation. And it starts at the junior levels. There should be a concerted effort through developmental leagues, colleges, USL, NASL and MLS. Build on strengths and attitude. This is America and we can always do better. 

Finally, and it pains me to admit this, but this will be officially my final blog. My exit is not due to the team's loss, although it certainly precipitated my decision. I have been absent from the soccer scene for two years now due to a combination of circumstances. I feel it is appropriate to cede space for those whose interest is raw and present, to those opinionated voices that have nonsense to yell or those with educated statements to make. 

Over 600 posts and nearly a decade later, I have relived soccer tales and attempted to predict the sport's future. It is fitting, perhaps, that yesterday I was unable to watch any of the games, having relinquished cable TV a month ago. Instead, I followed the games via Twitter, a most dis-likable method. 

And so I saw the fates of Conmebol and Concacaf games come to fruition 140 characters at a time. It was a nervy 5 minutes after Panama scored the go-ahead goal. The wish for a miracle faded fast. Why should it be that such a moment can happen again to Panama 4 years later? 

I call this exit a retirement. I won't be permanently gone. This blog will remain open as a website for another year and the tweets will likely continue, albeit at a lower frequency. So, some final asks and wishes:

To US Soccer: go back to the beginning and think about a real 10 year plan. 2026 is calling.

To Pulisic and the young kids: Your time will come. Grow as a player and kick some ass for your clubs.

To Ecuador: focus on defense.

To college teams: adopt all of the game rules.

To FIFA: More substitutions and more referees.

To Emelec: Go for the Libertadores. Focus only on that.

To the Portland Timbers: Keep doing what you do.

To MLS: no more expansion unless promotion/relegation is adopted AND switch to a fall-spring calendar like everyone else in the world does. This will help the national team and the league internationally. Focus on the Concacaf Champions League. If MLS starts winning that then you can truly claim to be an elite league.

And finally, to my daughters and nieces and nephews: Play the game with your heart, learn from your teammates and your opponents.

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