Moving Forward for the USMNT

A collaboration from the ladies of MLSFemale. Organized by Abigail Gerken.

The USMNT not making the 2018 World Cup made room for a lot of discussion about this program and how we can advance as a soccering nation. Here is what the MLSFemale writers think about this situation the USMNT is in.

What went wrong in this qualifying cycle?

KAITLYN: US Soccer has several problems, and it’s not just Bruce Arena, Jurgen Klinsmann or Sunil Gulati. US Soccer needs to grow their players. They need to develop the players in MLS Academies, and those players (if American) need to be getting attention from US Soccer. Like Kerissa said; Klinsmann didn’t help develop the youth system. US Soccer really needs to focus on youth development and get players who they can into the US Soccer and MLS Academies; ones that will develop and support the players.

In the end, the US didn’t play to win. They played to tie. They assumed that Mexico and Costa Rica would win; which wasn’t a safe assumption. And of course, people will blame the coach, they’ll blame the field, they’ll blame Mexico and Roman Torres. But the players didn’t perform. It just wasn’t there.

KERISSA: Looking at just this qualifying cycle, it wasn’t just one thing that went wrong. One place where I think issues began was having Jurgen Klinsmann be both head coach and technical director. Technical directors also need to handle youth development and Klinsmann never showed interest in developing the US system. He recruited from Europe and leaned on players who trained in the German system. Yes, it’s a great system, but US Soccer isn’t always going to pull from that pool. Ignoring players developed and developing means less incentive to stay or play for the US.

As for the TNT match, the biggest error was Bruce Arena not taking Trinidad and Tobago seriously enough to make a game plan. Not only did he send out the same formation as the Panama match, he had no backup when it became apparent in the first ten minutes that the formation wasn’t going to work.

While his was an arrogant decision, too many of the players showed entitlement in their approach to the match.

JESS: What went wrong. Speaking specifically to the Trinidad and Tobago game, the players did not show up. Like Kaitlyn said, and like I have been saying, they stepped on the field to play for a tie because they knew that all they needed was a tie and thought they could skate by. In any game you play, you should be playing for the win. When the question of qualification comes up, your aim should be to destroy the other team. To leave no doubt in anyone’s mind that you deserve that last guaranteed spot or that one more chance in the playoff.

There was no heart. Blame the conditions of the field, the weather, whatever you want to blame – but that’s all an excuse for the more painful truth that as bad as the team may have wanted this win, they didn’t show it on the field. Just because you haven’t missed qualifying since 1986 doesn’t mean that you deserve to be there. I got a little miffed with the people asking the “but can you imagine a World Cup without _______?!” questions, because the answer is yes. No one is guaranteed in so a World Cup without _____ is entirely possible and probable as we painfully found out this week. Time to reboot.

KIRSTEN: The team (and country) put all their hopes on a 19 year old kid who is barely out of high school. Christian Pulisic is an amazing player, but he can’t be the guy right away. He needs support, and the team couldn’t give that to him. We also had no midfield presence. Our mids were all pushing forward leaving Bradley to be kind of defensive all by himself.

Our transition game was GOD AWFUL! We weren’t too terrible at defensive for a chunk of the games, but the rest there was not much good anywhere. *side note: I feel terrible for Matt Besler (he’s obvi my fave), but I’ve always seen him as a hard-worker who never takes things for granted. He was benched a bit last season for subpar play, and was passed over for Gold Cup in 2016. He knows the stakes, and I am just sad I’ll never see him play in another World Cup. I might be crying a bit right now, but that’s okay.

What should we change moving forward (new players, formation, coaches, etc.)?:

ABIGAIL: I think that we need to start focusing on 2022. We need to start having a consistent lineup (especially the back 4 which has been made up of many different combinations of players). We have so many talented young players in the system (Pulisic, Brooks, Yedlin, Acosta, Arrola, Wood) who have proved they can play at a very high level and push this USMNT team forward. Take out older players who aren’t going to be there for ‘22 and let the young players figure things out and build chemistry. We have 5 years to do this.

KAITLYN: In my opinion, it’s time for Sunil Gulati to move on. US Soccer needs to be re-evaluated and their system would benefit from a new president to re-vamp the program. As for new players, this should be the wake up call. The National Team needs new defenders; and as much as we all love Tim Howard, they need a younger goalie.

SYLVANA: I fully believe there are people in the system who can bring about the necessary changes. Gulati isn’t going anywhere; he’s still aiming to get WC2026 to North America and the only way is to be rid of him is to put someone else in place through election. Tab Ramos, who has been part of the system, could be a step in the right direction.

JESS: What needs to change is that US Soccer continuously relies on our past to resolve our future. We relied on a coach that got us to the quarter-finals in 2002. What did he do after that? Arena is that ex that never should’ve gotten a second chance. We blame Klinsmann for a thrashing against a solid Costa Rica team. Was he the one on the field?

Firing him didn’t solve anything. We rely on older players who, while still capable of playing, are not truly capable at keeping up with the international field. Why? Perhaps they might be of greater value off the field than on. We have a USSF president who is far more concerned about bolstering his pocketbook than aiding his organization. Again, why? No one runs against him. Our home system is a slower, less creative game than what we see come out of the rest of the world.

I love the MLS and will always support it, but why don’t we play with the speed and creativity of Germany and Spain? Why do we have to be the retirement league of the world? We stand here, wring our hands, and say “what happened” when the freight train of issues that’s been heading our direction, and we’ve seen coming, finally hits us. Maybe we should get off the tracks.

Let’s vote out a USSF president that doesn’t want to take responsibility for putting us on those tracks and bring in someone with a new, better plan. Let’s scrap and rebuild our pay-to-play system, and make more opportunities for those kids from lower income households with the passion and natural ability that we need.

Let’s encourage our players to step out of their comfort zone and take opportunities available to them in different countries. Let’s take a hard look at American individualism, how it impacts being a team player, and remember that soccer is a team sport and not a “me” sport. Let’s take bigger risks, leave the past where it is, and invest in our future.

KAITLYN: For me, I have the biggest issue with US Soccer’s development systems.

There has been a lot of discussion about Pay-to-Play in the youth soccer systems, how does that affect the USMNT?

KIRSTEN: In the United States soccer is seen as a “rich kid” sport. To get into the best club systems your family needs to have money. To many, basketball and football are seen as the “street sports” where kids from all backgrounds can play and get noticed. In other countries soccer is the sport that everyone plays regardless of background. If we can grow soccer like we have fostered basketball and football we have a chance of getting talented athletes from all walks of life, and not just the privileged.

SYLVANA: As a soccer parent, I want to comment on pay-to-play. I get it– this stuff costs money. I see our expenses for my sons’ club: insurance, pass fees, uniforms, equipment. And our club costs a fraction of the cost of other clubs in my area. I’ve had other parents tell me they’d gladly pay more if it resulted in better results on the field.

But to me, cost doesn’t equal value. My kid could be ready for an academy, but he won’t be seen by a scout unless I pay hundreds of dollars in camp fees where the scouts go. So if I can’t afford it, my son’s development is over. And that’s not fair to him. How many times has that happened in America in the past 20 years?

I’m also hearing a lot about the NCAA and blowing up the college system. I’d like to share with you something Mark Pulisic told me (I hope he doesn’t mind). He said in America, there are so many levels of play that anyone who wants to reach their highest level can do so– that level isn’t always international. I don’t think anyone who plays college for 4 years should have any sort of leg-up in getting into MLS. (Jordan Morris was a homegrown academy product- his college career is irrelevant.) Soccer as a vehicle to an education is distinctly American.

SHEBA: Pay to play is a completely upside down model for developing the growth of the sport in the US. I work in a community with strong immigrant ties, and soccer is THE sport kids play here–at recess, on weekends, with families, you name it. It is the only sport in which our high school is competitive with other schools its size.

We have immigrant communities small and large across the U.S. with plenty of people who have brought to this country a passion for, and knowledge of, the beautiful game. Unfortunately their passion and knowledge don’t translate into any sort of development of the sport, or pipeline for talented youth players, because they remain disconnected from the traditional pathways to professional soccer in the US, whether Olympic Development Programs, collegiate soccer, or professional teams’ youth academies.

Outside of the inaccessibly expensive pay to play youth leagues, there are “pirate leagues” and “tournament teams” that form and re-form for individual, specific events. These teams have outstanding players at all levels, but such pieced-together-by-the-tournament players are not at all connected to the expensive club system because they cannot afford to be.

These same talented athletes also often come from families who don’t have a history of attending college, and/or who lack the necessary knowledge and financial resources to get their children the tools they need to access higher education. And scouting resources at the collegiate and professional level are woefully understaffed. As a result most of these extremely capable youth players who might otherwise be the next generation of US all stars go unheralded and fail to develop to their potential, unconnected to Olympic soccer, collegiate soccer, or professional teams’ academy systems (many of which are still in their infancy).

Other comments? 

JESS: Maybe there’s a silver lining to not making it into Russia that I’m not seeing. Maybe that silver lining is that it’s spurring conversations like this and has sowed the seeds of change. I know that I am disappointed by the results. I know that I am a little more cynical and on edge this week because of that disappointment. Let’s build for 2022 and come back with a vengeance.

KIRSTEN: Both of my countries are out! The Netherlands are only supposed to be terrible for the Euros, and we know what happened to the USMNT. Who the hell am I supposed to root for now?

Featured image courtesy: @ussoccer

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