In the aftermath of the United States’ stunning failure to quality for the World Cup for the first time in more than thirty years, it’s clear that U.S. Soccer has serious structural problems that need fixing.
We need to lower costs and remove barriers to entry for young players across the country – especially in lower-income, urban areas. We need to raise coaching standards.
But those structural problems aren’t new, and they aren’t what prevented the U.S. from getting to Russia next summer. Pay to play is a travesty, but we’ve had a pay to play system in this country for years.
Entering this qualifying cycle, The U.S. had gone to seven straight World Cups and advanced into the knockout stages at three of the last four and four of the last six. What happened? The team lost a core piece of its identity.
The U.S. has had some good teams over the last two decades, but they haven’t had any great ones. The respect national team won had everything to do with its tenacity, its togetherness, and its desire. No matter what, the U.S. were fighters.
That changed under Jurgen Klinsmann, whose penchant for divisiveness and disorganization was his undoing when his team absolutely quit on him in that humiliating 4-0 loss in Costa Rica.
Bruce Arena was brought in to revive those bedrock traits. The fundamentals. It didn’t happen.
The first half on Tuesday night told the story. Arena simply didn’t have his team ready to play. If he were a bad coach who never had his team ready to play, that’d be one thing. That was the frustration with Klinsmann.
But it’s not like Arena was incapable of motivating his players and game-planning during his year on the job.
His preparation for the Mexico game, for example, was impeccable. Arena had his team begin training in the 3-5-2 he was going to roll out in the Azteca on the first day of that June camp.
He made seven changes from that window’s first qualifier – a comfortable home win over Trinidad – each carefully thought out, each communicated with the team well in advance of the trip south.
It was a job very well done. His players were prepared, they knew what they needed to do, and they ground out a result.
That’s what was expected from Arena. He didn’t need to be a visionary. There was more than enough talent on hand to get to Russia. He just needed, with all of his CONCACAF experience, to get his team locked in.