In the wake of the disastrous World Cup qualifying campaign that culminated in a 2-1 loss Tuesday night against Trinidad and Tobago, it was surprising to see the differing approaches from the two most high-profile analysts of the US Men’s National Team. In one corner, you had FOX Sports Alexi Lalas, guardian of the status quo and US Soccer system. In the other, you had ESPN’s Taylor Twellman who continued his long-standing calls for reform in a more aggressive fashion than ever before.
At the full time whistle in the Caribbean, the USMNT’s failure came into full view. The US, which had been described by one English pundit as the “furniture” at the World Cup because it was always there, had been eliminated from qualification by a combination of events. The reaction was predictably filled with anger among fans and several former USMNT players.
Using the megaphone afforded him by his role with ESPN, Taylor Twellman — whom I previously have classified as the best American-born analyst in history — was on fire, delivering a seven minute rant in tandem with Max Bretos which amounted to the elements of a manifesto. Twellman’s dissatisfaction with the US Soccer system and leadership of the US Soccer Federation (USSF) allowed him to go onto the types of mainstream sports shows where soccer is hardly ever discussed, especially in the middle of NFL and college football season to deliver his points with a passion and authenticity unmatched in the business.
Meanwhile, across the country, Alexi Lalas used his platform of FOX Sports shows and Twitter to offer what amounted largely to insecure defenses of the US. Lalas’ Twitter feed was filled with what seemed snarky or half-hearted defenses of the US situation and shots at critics.
For more than a month, Lalas’ mantra has been that he wants to see greater effort from the players and more “heart and desire,” those uniquely American characteristics that pushed the USMNT to a higher level in the past. But Lalas’ is also conscious of not calling out some of the obvious points that can be brought into this discussion — the failing youth soccer structure, the lack of competitiveness for places in MLS when it comes to USMNT players, the lack of tactical coaching happening both in MLS and in the US system, as well as the lack of accountability for failure within this system. Lalas’ hails from a generation where the USMNT established itself as a power in this region and an upstart on the global stage.
While Lalas’ isn’t alone in finding the most reasoned way to push back against massive structural change following the USMNT failure, he is the most visible and credible voice defending the status quo. For those like Lalas who have a vested interest in promoting MLS and US Soccer, no doubt non-qualification for the World Cup has been humbling but should be met with only cosmetic changes that ensure the existing order isn’t upset. These “changes” would simply be the type of window dressing, putting lipstick on a pig that entrenched establishment cliques in all lines of business or politics use to appear reform-minded but stay in power.