By Anna Goorevich || Contributing Writer
The United States is in a time of crisis. And no, I’m not talking about the current political or economic situation, but more importantly, the disastrous state of US Soccer. For the first time since 1986, the US Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT) has not qualified for the World Cup this summer in Russia, as confirmed by the team’s 2-1 loss to Trinidad in Tobago on October 10, thereby inciting arguments of a complete upheaval of the US Soccer program.
In what is being called by Sports Illustrated’s Grant Whal “the most embarrassing failure in US Soccer history,” the USMNT’s loss to Trinidad and Tobago was a result of lackadaisical play not only on October 10, but also throughout the qualifying period, as losses earlier on in the qualification to both Costa Rica (twice) and to Mexico left the USMNT in a vulnerable position.
It had become evident throughout the matches that the team grew too dependent on young starlet Christian Pulisic, who scored seven goals throughout the qualifying period and was involved in many others. The United States defense was careless in their defending, and made many crucial errors throughout the game. Defender Omar Gonzalez tapped in an own goal, which let Trinidad and Tobago have an advantage early on in the game. Soon after, Trinidadian player Alvin Jones lifted a far-out shot over USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard’s head, thereby doubling their lead in the 37th minute. The US reinstated some hope early in the second half after a Pulisic goal, but dreams were crushed at the final whistle and it was confirmed that the US had not qualified for the World Cup.
There was an outpouring of anger across the soccer community in response to the USMNT’s failure, leaving many to question if the US Soccer Federation (USSF) is developing the program in the most effective way. Many believe that the USSF needs to take accountability for the team’s failure. It was evident that Coach Bruce Arena approached the game wrong in every way possible, especially tactically. Area resigned from his head coaching position days after the Trinidad game.
Additionally, many are calling for USSF President Sunil Gulati to step down or not run for reelection next February. At the time of writing, Gulati still remains president and there is no word yet on his future plans.
The USMNT’s failure to qualify for the World Cup highlights the need for a restructuring of US Soccer. Currently, youth soccer development in the US is not able to match the high level that exists in many other parts of the world, which leads to the lack of success that the US has in international competition.
One possible solution is for US Soccer to invest more heavily into youth soccer programs, especially in order to make high level soccer development more accessible and affordable to children in lower socioeconomic statuses.
Another area that the USSF should focus on is improving the coaching quality among youth soccer teams through increased availability of coaching and development education. Currently, the notion of the parent-coach is popular among youth soccer, which has evidently hindered the advancement of youth soccer. Having more professionalized soccer coaches with a true focus on skill development at younger ages is crucial in order to increase the overall quality of play among Americans, which will pay dividends in the future.
At this point, the path to US Soccer redemption is still largely unknown. However, as the USMNT now sets their sights to the 2022 World Cup, it is essential that leadership in the USSF uses this failure as a wake-up call to make fundamental changes to the flawed system of US Soccer.
First-year Anna Goorevich is a contributing writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.