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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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Happiness to Heartbreak for USMNT

Abigail Gerken - USWNT/mlsfemale
USMNT Official Reporter

By Abigail Gerken // @abigailgerken22

2 games, 5 days apart, 2 very different results, and 1 country on a roller coaster of emotion,

FRIDAY: On Friday the boys played Panama in Orlando, Florida. It was a very chippy game but it resulted in a 4-0 win for the USA. Wonderboy did it again, Christian Pulisic had a goal and an assist. Jozy Altidore also had an amazing game,  2 goals and an assist to his name. After this 4-0 win, the USMNT had a 93% chance of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

It all came down to the final match day of this World Cup Qualifying cycle. Tuesday was the WCQ equivalent of MLS’s Decision Day for North and South America. All games started at 4:30, and by the end of the night, we will know who is booking a ticket to Russia and who was spending summer 2018 at home.

TUESDAY: It all came down to this. The only way the US could not qualify for the World Cup is if: they lose to Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras beats Mexico, and Panama beats Costa Rica. By the 37th minute, the USMNT was down 2-0 to T&T. In the 47th minute Christian Pulisic scored to make it 2-1. However, the goals would stop there and the USMNT would lose 2-1. Meanwhile, both Honduras and Panama won their respective games.

USA’s worst nightmare just happened. We are officially not going to be in the 2018 World Cup. This is the first time since 1986 that the USMNT has not qualified for a World Cup.

Tweet us @MLSFemale and let us know what you think went wrong! We would love to hear your opinions on this heartbreaking loss.

Featured image of Jozy Altidore courtesy: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

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#WONTHEGROUP

Abigail Gerken - USWNT/mlsfemale
US National Team Key Contributor

By Abigail Gerken // @abigailgerken22

3 games, 3 cities, 7 points, 8 days.

Those are some of the numbers that recap the wild group stage of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup.

The boys kicked it off in Nashville where they debuted their new red and navy blue kit against a very determined Panama squad. Sorry, but can we just talk about these kits for a second. THEY ARE AMAZING! We’ve been asking for more patriotism being displayed in our uniforms (@ USWNT world cup kit) and Nike+ finally delivered. Okay, back to the game. Dom Dwyer scored the only USA goal of the match in the 50th minute off of a Kelyn Rowe assist.

On July 12th, the USMNT played Martinique in Tampa. Jordan Morris was the star of this show. The 22 year old scored 2 goals in this match, and Omar Gonzalez added on the third. Martinique scored 2. The game ended 3-2, with the US picking up 3 points.

On July 15th, the USMNT played Nicaragua in Cleveland. There was 3 different goal scorers in this dominant performance. Joe Corona, Kelyn Rowe, and Matt Miazga (!) all picked up a goal. Going into this game we knew that they needed to win by 3 goals to win group B and avoid playing Costa Rica in the Quarterfinals. Although they won 3-0 it could’ve been 5-0. There was 2 penalty kick calls in the USA’s favor. Dom Dwyer took the first and Joe Corona took the second, both kicks were saved.

A couple notes:

Kelyn Rowe: My hometown hero had a breakthrough performance. He scored his first international goal, started 2 of the games, and played extremely well (I mean did you guys see him completely mix 2 Panamanian defenders to assist Dom Dwyer’s goal?!). He definitely made everyone back in Seattle and New England proud!

Matt Miazga is back?: If you told me at the end of 2015 that Matt Miazga would only have 3 caps and his first goal would be in the 2017 Gold Cup, I would’ve told you that you were crazy! Anyways that’s the case, but he is definitely making a comeback, with a shutout and a goal he should be in the conversation for center back pairings going forward.

The BFFs do national team: My personal favorite MLS player, Cristian Roldan joins his Seattle Sounders FC teammate and self proclaimed best friend Jordan Morris for the Gold Cup. After being ½ of arguably the best MLS center defensive midfield pairing with Osvaldo Alonso and getting a call up to January camp, many fans suspected that it was time he gets his first cap with the USMNT, and on July 12th he did!

Out with the new in with the old? : After group stage, teams are allowed to substitute 6 players on their roster. Head coach Bruce Arena took full advantage of this opportunity and swapped several newbies for seasoned vets + an upcoming star.

OUT: Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya, Cristian Roldan, Kelyn Rowe, and Dom Dwyer.

IN: Tim Howard, Jesse Gonzalez, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Darlington Nagbe, and Jozy Altidore.

Want to see more? The USMNT plays El Salvador in Philadelphia on July 19th in the quarterfinals.

Featured image courtesy: @USSoccer

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In Bruce we Trust

Abigail Gerken - USWNT/mlsfemale
US National Team Key Contributor

By Abigail Gerken // @abigailgerken22

Sunday, June 11: 1-1 Draw

Lineup:
Brad Guzan
Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, Tim Ream
Deandre Yedlin, Kellyn Acosta, Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley
Paul Arriola (Darlington Nagbe, 63) , Bobby Wood (Jozy Altidore 79), Christian Pulisic (Graham Zusi, 90+2)

The USMNT faced off against Mexico at high altitude for a crucial World Cup Qualifying match. An hour before the match when the lineup was released on twitter, fans got a little nervous. There was a lot of questions surrounding this particular eleven with only 6 of the 11 who played against Mexico on November 11th, 2016. Some questions USA fans had were: Where is Clint Dempsey? Where is John Brooks? Where is Tim Howard? These ‘key’ players were replaced with the likes of Kellyn Acosta, Omar Gonzalez, and Brad Guzan.

Here are some quick theories on why I think Bruce Arena chose this lineup. The game takes place in Mexico City, Mexico which is 7,382 feet above sea level! It’s not an easy transition for someone who plays at for example, 581 feet above sea level (Clint Dempsey in Seattle, Washington). In this group of 23 guys, we have players who play in Mexico and who are already adapted to the altitude. So when you have two players who play the same position like Omar Gonzalez and John Brooks, and Omar Gonzalez plays at 8,000 feet altitude compared to John Brooks 300 feet, you’re going to go with Omar Gonzalez.

Also, there are several players who are on the verge of yellow card suspension. Those players are Jozy Altidore, Alejandro Bedoya, Matt Besler, Bradley, John Brooks and Cameron. So when you have players that have dependable replacements i.e John Brooks, you can save them from what we all know is a chippy rivalry match.

The doubt would quickly be set aside when Michael Bradley (Yes, Michael Bradley!) unleashed his inner Carli Lloyd and chipped the Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa from about 40 yards out in the 5th minute. I guess it is a captain America thing 😉

The lead didn’t last very long. In the 23rd minute after a missed chance for the US in the box, Mexico countered and Carlos Vela slotted a low ball into the right post.

Overall, the game was pretty chippy, but what else do you expect? It’s against Mexico and at Estadio Azteca in front of 71,537. However, there were only 2 yellow cards issued in this match, and both to the United States. DeAndre Yedlin got one in the 42nd minute for persistent infringement and Paul Arriola also got cautioned in the 56th.

After the results of this match, the United States are currently in 3rd place in the Hex with 8 points. There are 4 more games in the Hex, with the qualifiers concluding in October. The next USMNT World Cup Qualifying game is on September 1st against Costa Rica.

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#wegot3 USMNT get 3 points in crucial WCQ

US Women’s National Team Key Contributor

By Abigail Gerken @abigailgerken22

March 24: USMNT vs Honduras: 6-0 Win

USA Lineup : Tim Howard; Jorge Villafaña, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks (Tim Ream, 70), Geoff Cameron (Graham Zusi, 59); Michael Bradley (capt.), Sebastian Lletget (Alejandro Bedoya, 18), Christian Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe; Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore

The USMNT beat Honduras 6-0 in a huge World Cup qualifying game. They are in the “Hex” which is 6 CONCACAF teams (USA, Mexico, Trinidad and Tobago, Honduras, Panamá, and Costa RIca) competing against each other for 3 spots in the 2018 FIFA World Cup. The 6 teams will all play each other twice (one home and one away), and the 3 teams with the most points will automatically qualify for the World Cup, the team in 4th place will have to play an inter-confederation play-in game to qualify.

Prior to this game, the USMNT were in last place, with 0 points in 2 games. They lost to Mexico 2-1 on November 11th, and they also lost to Costa Rica 4-0 on November 15th.

The goal scorers for this game were Clint Dempsey (3), Sebastian Lletget (1), Michael Bradley (1) and Christian Pulisic (1).

The Budweiser Man of the Match Clint Dempsey scored his first goals since June 16th, 2016 during the Copa America. He has been sidelined from national team duty after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.

The 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying – CONCACAF rankings as they stand

TEAM GP W L D Pts. GF GA GD
Mexico 3 2 0 1 7 4 1 3
Costa Rica 3 2 1 0 6 6 2 4
Panama 3 1 1 1 4 1 1 0
United States 3 1 2 0 3 7 6 1
Trinidad & Tobago 3 1 2 0 3 2 5 -3
Honduras 3 1 2 0 3 3 8 -5

Featured image courtesy: U.S. Soccer

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Subscribe + get caught up: Weekly Dispatch 2017