New York (AFP) – Calls to oust US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati abounded on Wednesday as the humiliation sunk in of the Americans failing to qualify for the 2018 Russia World Cup.
A 2-1 loss Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago combined with triumphs by Honduras and Panama eliminated the US squad, which had not misssed a World Cup since 1986.
India-born American Gulati, 58, has been the US Soccer Federation president since 2006 but new elections are in February and a call for new leadership has been swift and loud from fans and media commentators.
“Dramatic changes must be made at many levels, but it all starts at the top,” said a statement on the American Outlaws website, the online home of one of the largest US team supporter groups.
“In no uncertain terms, the President of the United States Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, must go. Despite past successes he has presided over an unmitigated disaster and the federation needs fresh leadership and ideas from top to bottom.”
Gulati told The New York Times after the US match that his re-election candidacy “is not a decision for me to think about tonight,” and added, “We will look at everything, obviously, all of our programs, both the national team and all the development stuff. But we’ve got some pieces in place that we think are very good and are coming along.”
Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, in a post on the magazine’s website, said Gulati must go and restructuring of US Soccer is needed.
“The push for an overhaul of the US Soccer Federation will be stronger than ever from fans, from media and from American soccer stakeholders who’ve invested millions of dollars in the growth of the sport—including USSF sponsors like Nike, Coca-Cola and Budweiser, MLS owners and television rights-holders like Fox Sports, ESPN and Univision,” Wahl wrote.
“A massive reboot needs to happen in a federation that has too often been opaque, insular and woefully resistant to change over the years, and it has to start at the top with the replacement of US Soccer president Sunil Gulati. It’s time.”
Filip Bondy, writing on the Forbes magazine website, agreed that, “This surely marks the end of the Sunil Gulati era for US Soccer.
“Fairly or not, Gulati’s legacy has been badly tarnished. He can’t hope to win reelection as president in February now that the Americans have failed at their single most important task.”
– ‘We got what we deserved’ –
Rocco Commisso, the New York Cosmos chairman with an anti-trust lawsuit against US Soccer, joined the chorus as well.
“The blame must be placed squarely at the feet of US Soccer’s management, led by Sunil Gulati,” Commisso said in a statement. “The first step in ensuring that American soccer consistently performs at a level that spares all of us the kind of negative emotions generated by our national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup is for Mr. Gulati to resign.
“The US (men’s team) has never come close to achieving international prominence as it should, given our country’s size, resources and huge pool of athletic talent.”
Landon Donovan, the all-time US leader with 57 goals, told US radio host Dan Patrick he was troubled by a poor US road effort.
“The most disturbing part for me was the lack of urgency displayed,” Donovan said. “The lack of urgency to really understand what was it stake was really disheartening for me and candidly it was really hard to watch.”
Donovan avoided criticizing specific people but was upset the qualifying fight was left so late.
“It should never come down to having score one goal in Trinidad to get to the World Cup,” he said. “We’re past those days where that should happen. The reality is we lost two games at home in qualifying… I don’t know the last time that happened.
“It’s unacceptable in every way and it’s disappointing and we got what we deserved.”
– MLS ‘remains bullish’ –
A statement from Major League Soccer expressed disappointment but vowed to “take stock in the coming days and work to determine how we can continue to help the men’s national team become stronger and more successful going forward.
“There’s no denying that this is a setback for all of us involved with the game in our country. While this is a missed opportunity for soccer in the United States, we remain incredibly bullish on the future of the sport.”