We’re making history in The Jungle today because I’m about to say something I’ve never said and frankly never thought I’d say: I’m leading the show with soccer. Yes, soccer.
And not World Cup soccer. Because the United States won’t be playing in the World Cup. Not after that embarrassing 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago. Let that sink in. With a World Cup berth on the line, the United States lost to Trinidad and Tobago. As I always say, if you can’t beat T&T, you don’t deserve to go to the World Cup.
If I cared about soccer, I’d be pissed. If I cared about soccer, I’d be embarrassed. If I cared about soccer, I’d point out that in a must-win game, the US showed up flat and lethargic. It would be bad enough if they were eliminated on a fluky, last-minute goal, but instead, they showed up in a crucial game and fell behind 2-0 to Trinidad and Tobago, the worst team in the group. This wasn’t even Ghana, it was Trinidad and Tobago. A team that had nothing to play for outworked an American team that had everything to play for.
If I cared about soccer, I’d point out that the odds were staggeringly against this. That depending on which projection you used, depending on the results for Panama and Honduras, the US had roughly an 85-90% chance of going through last night. Why? Because nobody thought the US would actually lose to Trinidad and Tobago. And they did. The 2016-17 Atlanta Falcons can’t believe how badly the US just choked.
If I cared about soccer, I’d say I don’t care about the fact that Panama beat Costa Rica in part because of a goal that shouldn’t have counted. Because that shouldn’t have been a factor at all. Not when the US was playing Trinidad and Tobago. If I cared about soccer, I’d say that I can’t stress enough how embarrassing it is to lose to Trindad and Tobago.
If I cared about soccer, I’d point out that there’s plenty of blame to go around. From the players for their lack of effort, to manager Bruce Arena for his seriously questionable tactics, to the US Soccer Federation administration.
If I cared about soccer I’d question the logic of rolling out with the exact same starting 11 as the ones who played four days earlier in Orlando. That was a recipe for a slow start and sure enough, they looked tired and flat as hell. I’d also question the lack of a partner for Michael Bradley in midfield. I’d point out that Jozy Altidore had to track back too far to receive the ball, but that he didn’t do much when he got it. I’d also add that Bobby Wood was a non-factor. Same with Darlington Nagbe. Omar Gonzalez scored an own-goal. And Tim Howard picked a bad day to have a bad day in goal.
Essentially everyone not named Christian Pulisic was a disaster. But that’s pretty much US soccer right now: the wunderkind works his witchcraft and everyone else just stands around and watches.
After the implosion, manager Bruce Arena said: “It’s a blemish for us. We should not be staying at home for this World Cup and I take responsibility.”
Bruce, getting shutout by Costa Rica at home was a blemish. Getting pantsed by T&T is a disaster. It’s humiliating. And losing to T&T with a trip to the World Cup on the line is even worse. And zero credit for taking responsibility. That’s your job. Actually, your job was to rescue the team after Jurgen Klinsmann was canned. You were literally hired to coach through the World Cup and you didn’t even get there. Bruce got a ton of love when he first came in. And now he deserves a ton of heat as he goes out the door.
If I cared about soccer, I’d point out that this storm was coming. That of late, the US has played down to its level of competition and that the youth development is seriously flawed. That pay-to-play is good for the people who organize it and not for the sport. That this isn’t a matter of the best American athletes not playing soccer, it’s that the best American soccer players aren’t developed well. And that missing next World Cup isn’t going to help.
If I cared about soccer, I’d say it’s time for a hard reset. Not just a new coach, that’s happening anyway, but new leadership in the game. If I cared about soccer, I’d say the US Soccer Federation needs to clean house and have its house cleaned. But I’m not sure that any of that will happen. Because somehow, a national team that’s never won anything, has a surprising level of arrogance.
If I cared about soccer, I’d think and say all these things. But I don’t.