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At a Crossroads: What’s Next for USMNT?

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Bruce Arena needs to be fired. There, I went and got the easy part out of the way. After Thursday’s 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago, the United States will miss out on the 2018 World Cup, failing to qualify for the first time since 1986. Given the coverage and outrage by pundits, you probably knew that too.

Consider the roster against Trinidad & Tobago. Only nine out of the twenty-three men available for play were under the age of 30. Our youngest goalkeeper was 33-year-old Brad Guzan, who, in spite of excellent recent form with Atlanta United, was left on the bench in favor of 38-year-old Tim Howard. Giving credit where it’s due, Reddit user /u/deadmethods said in the Post Match Thread, “Arena relied too heavily on the old guard and they f****n let us down.” Say what you will about experience, but relying too heavily on a largely aged, past-their-prime roster played a large part in the failure of this round of qualification.

By no means are we the only nation expected to qualify that ended up falling short. Chileans are also up in arms over missing out on the 2018 World Cup, but let’s be realistic for a minute. They lost 3-0 to Brazil. Nobody expected Chile to upset the juggernaut of South America. The Netherlands missed out on goal differential after Sweden’s 8-0 meme-becoming-reality drubbing of Luxembourg. But the United States lost to Trinidad & Tobago, who managed only 6 points in 10 qualifying matches and finished dead last. In case you were wondering, we finished 5th out of 6. England fans can whine all they want about Gareth Southgate – at least he won his group and qualified for the World Cup.

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Photo credit: The Santiago Times

Heard enough yet about how much we suck? Good, let’s move on to more pressing matters. A loss of this magnitude and missing out on the World Cup for the first time since the Reagan administration leaves the US Men’s National Team at a crossroads. You’re now the laughingstock of the soccer world. What are you going to do about it?

I feel the last few coaches of the USMNT have been fired at extremely inappropriate times, showing hotheadedness, an itchy trigger finger, and our American instinct to find a scapegoat to take all the blame. Yes, I did begin this rant by saying we should fire Bruce Arena, and I stand by that. But considering their World Cup results, I was against the firing of his two predecessors, Bob Bradley and Jurgen Klinsmann.

Bradley assumed control of the USMNT after Bruce Arena’s sacking in 2006, after a poor World Cup performance where the United States only managed one point and finished dead last in their group. He succeeded in 2010 where Arena had failed in the previous World Cup, not only advancing past the group stage but winning Group C after a late goal by Landon Donovan in the final fixture against Algeria. A 4-2 loss to Mexico in the 2011 Gold Cup final ultimately saw the end of Bradley’s era. While the United States was never a fearsome powerhouse under Bradley, they also were never the butt of jokes.

 

When it comes to Klinsmann, I’m of the same opinion as Reddit user /u/Louxneauwytz:

“Whoever thought firing Klinsmann in the first place was a good idea is f*****g insanely stupid. The even worse part was hiring a tactically inept coach who is decades from where football is right now. Dude is so ass backward and behind that it’s laughable. Completely shambolic performance. And completely idiotic decision from US soccer to even hire him in the first place…Have some f*****g heart. Show something. Be even remotely tactically aware. F***’s sake…Fire the best coach we’ve had in decades for a guy so past it he’s a f*****g gargoyle.”

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Photo credit: New York Times

Jurgen Klinsmann presided over what was arguably our national team’s finest hour, surviving a Group of Death in the 2014 World Cup. Finally getting the monkey off our back and defeating Ghana (achieving what both Arena and Bradley failed to do in 2006 and 2010, respectively – both losses eliminating the United States from the World Cup), the USMNT went on the draw Portugal (which would have been a win, had it not been for a stoppage-time goal by Cristiano Ronaldo, debatably the world’s greatest player) and narrowly lose to eventual champion Germany en route to moving on to the knockout stage. Even at that point, it took stoppage time and two goals from world-class players Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku to finally put the American side down.

Keep in mind, this all took place after Klinsmann made the impossible decision to cut Landon Donovan from the national team’s final World Cup roster. At 32 years old, Donovan arguably had one more World Cup left in him, but Klinsmann had the stones to do what Arena couldn’t do – let go of older talent to utilize youth and further develop the program.

Change needs to begin at the top. Sunil Gulati has been president of the United States Soccer Foundation since 2006, running unopposed, and with the Men’s National Team in stagnation, he needs to be replaced. Boston-based attorney Steve Gans will run against Gulati in 2018, with, in his words, “over twenty-five years in legal, management, director, playing and consulting capacities” in soccer. Whether or not Gans is the answer is up to the voting members of the USSF, but having given up on three coaches, then rehiring one, Gulati is certainly not the answer. Complacency is unacceptable.

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Photo credit: Sports Illustrated

So you’ve elected a new USSF president. Who do you bring in as a replacement for Bruce Arena after he’s ultimately shown the door? Hiring a big-name coach will instantly change the conversation away from missed qualification to what potential our future holds.

Considering his previous experience coaching rising superstar Christian Pulisic, Thomas Tuchel seems like the dream candidate if interested. Having shown great promise in two seasons at Borussia Dortmund, Tuchel agreed to leave the team in May after a falling out with senior figures at the club. The level of control given to a national team manager could be attractive to Tuchel, and what international job is currently more appealing?

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Photo credit: Kicker.de

If you’re looking for a manager with experience at some of the biggest clubs in Europe, why not have a look at the newly-available Carlo Ancelotti? Having won Serie A, the Premier League, Ligue 1, the Bundesliga, and the UEFA Champions League over the course of his career, Ancelotti’s resume is undeniable, and players should respond well to a manager with such sustained success. The Italian manager would likely produce immediate results, but having never coached an international team, you have to wonder if the job would even interest him.

What about a complete rebuild? What if you want to burn the house down to the ground and build it new from the ashes? Though he was prematurely sacked twice before really allowing his rehab projects to shine, Frank de Boer has been an assistant manager at the international level, helping lead the Netherlands to the 2010 World Cup FInal. A successful tenure at Ajax followed, with the Dutch club winning four consecutive titles from 2010-2014. Given the itchy trigger finger of Sunil Gulati, I don’t have much hope for this one, but it would be interesting to see what success a longer-term rebuild of the men’s program would yield.

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Photo credit: Sky Sports

Of course, the rumored frontrunner for the job is US U-20 coach Tab Ramos. With deep knowledge of the youth talent, Ramos could bridge the gap and provide consistency for several up-and-comers. It’s not a sexy pick, but it’s a safe pick. Then again, Bruce Arena was considered safe as well, and now we have to wait another four years for an attempt at the World Cup. I don’t think safe is the way to go, but it’s not my call to make.

Regardless of the hire, the USSF needs to give the next men’s head coach an actual opportunity to develop the program. If the next coach only gets one World Cup and is then fired after a Gold Cup performance, get your flares and plastic beer cups and let’s riot. If we’re ever going to make a real impact on the global game, we can’t afford to keep falling in love with a coach, then failing to see them through a rough patch. Have some confidence and let them try to rebound.

Except Bruce Arena. Seriously, get him out of here now.

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