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Sunil Gulati

Matchday: Honduras-USA: Gulati’s Hubris Raises Questions

Sunil Gulati

Today, the United States is likely to clinch its sixth consecutive trip to the World Cup Finals. For a nation, who followed up its famous 1950 victory over England with nine consecutive World Cup misses, the achievement is nothing short of remarkable.

 In the current, hyper competitive climate for world football, the US achievement is extraordinary. Football playing nations such as Holland, England, and France have all missed World Cups more recently than the US. Even in this current qualifying cycle, multiple time champions, Argentina and Germany are in serious jeopardy of not qualifying.

 With Costa Rica completely collapsing on the senior level (but surprisingly making a strong run at the U-20 World Cup), it is entirely possible that a US loss tonight, will result in both Honduras and the US qualifying for next summer’s World Cup.

 So, the US is about to do something remarkable. Yet questions remain about the overall direction of the program.


This week in London, American Soccer head honcho Sunil Gulati declared that the US could win next summer’s World Cup.  The incredible hubris demonstrated by Gulati continues a pattern of over selling the quality of the program, by leadership and other interested parties.

 Alexi Lalas this past week on his show “the sitter” declared MLS the most competitive league in the world. This is a laughable statement, unless he was simply speaking of first divisions in the English speaking nations. MLS is without a doubt more competitive and in my opinion, more compelling than the English Premier League.

 But, the English Championship (2nd division) is more competitive than MLS, as are dozens of  other first divisions throughout the world, most notably the Brazilian Serie A division, the Mexican Primerá Divisíon, the German Bundesliga, the Korean K-League and Japanese J-League. (language ignorance cannot be an alibi for Lalas, because he knows fluent Italian and Spanish)

 This is the same Alexi Lalas who three summers ago declared Kasey Keller the best goalkeeper in the world, and stated recently that Landon Donovan was unquestionably among the top twenty players on the planet.

 ESPN ran ads and programs implying strongly that Americans should tune into the 2006 World Cup, because the US was a contender to lift the trophy. Lest we forget, all this hype resulted in a tournament where the United States failed to win a single game.

 Now, as the US approaches another World Cup, the hubris of Gulati and commentary of Lalas and others once again threatens the ability of Americans to objectively measure expectations entering next summer.

 Assuming qualification is secured this weekend, I will be writing the in-depth series suggested by JMB321 and others on how US Soccer can take actions to match their words. The USSF has invested millions of dollars in programs that seemingly have fallen short of the mark. But heck, Chelsea and Manchester United, are both chasing Bradenton Academy graduate Neven Subotic. Of course, Subotic’s career took off when he ditched the US program.

 Tonight’s match could very well demonstrate to us the shortcomings in the US program. But then again, we have had countless opportunities this summer to acknowledge that we are not meeting our potential on the world stage. Those who uncritically support the current direction of the program continue to hide behind the glorious victory over Spain in this summer’s Confederations Cup.

 These supporters do the game a disservice especially when they quickly change the subject or show hostility to any mention of the five losses to respectable opposition the US suffered this summer. In these five matches, the US was outscored 13-1 in the second half of the matches: a record for futility that perhaps even the Faroe Islands or Luxembourg would not match.

 We all are hopeful that the national team can continue to move forward. But as our friend Jamie Trecker of Fox Sports continuously points out, the US mixes the occasional great performance (ie the Spain victory) with several indifferent or flat out embarrassing performances.

 Once the USSF, and its mouthpieces finally acknowledge the program is not where it should be at this point in time and make the needed changes, we can begin discussing winning the World Cup.

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  1. Timberattler

    March 23, 2010 at 5:37 pm

    The problem with American soccer has its roots in the youth programs. The wrong players are being selected to state and regional teams and national teams for the wrong reasons. Soccer must be played with the mind, in essence every player on the field must be a quarterback. They have to receive the ball, read the defense, and decide whether to ditch it, fly it or keep it. Granted the bigger and faster you are the better you are, provided you meet the mental qualifications. The US simply enlists the tallest fastest players they can find (that decided not to play basketball, football, or baseball) and thinks they can turn them into a soccer player. It doesn’t work. Soccer players have to love the game. They have to study the game. They have to eat it, breath it sleep it.
    One issue I see on the youth levels is the age cheating by immigrants. For example, there is a player on one of the youth national team pools who confided in my son at a resident camp that he is actually 2 years older than he should be for that team. He has no birth certificate, he “declared his age” upon immigration. The US is paying for his training, his gear, his travel. And much like young (HA!) Freddy Adu, he will pan out nothing in the end. You see, Freddy wasn’t really that great, he was 2 or 3 years older than everyone he played with – so he looked awesome. But when he turned 18 or 19 (20 or 21 in Freddy Years) he didn’t have that U20 protection anymore. Most really good (legit) youth players play up a year in age to make themselves better. These guys are playing down, making themselves worse. The are in fact stealing the US money. They’ll be stealing a younger better players chance to develop, and they probably steal a lot of the best youth soccer players in the country’s college scholarships. Why does it continue? One of the US youth national team coaches told me if they press the age issue of immigrants, they are hit with a discrimination lawsuit.
    You might think there are not that many out there that are doing it… I challenge you to go to the US youth national team website and read the names on the rosters.
    Youth soccer coaches are going to have to use their heads. Quit worrying about winning a title and insure there players are age appropriate. They aren’t just wrecking the chances of kids who are age appropriate, they are ruining the older players by not forcing their development by playing with team members their own age.

  2. Praveen

    March 1, 2010 at 11:54 pm

    All Gulatis are wonderful and great

  3. rajiv USA

    January 3, 2010 at 2:46 am

    To mike dawson : Why would networks want to air something that doesnt interest people in the usa? In LA for example, its a LAKER town man and nobody gives a $%&% about soccer. DEAL WITH IT. This sport is the ONLY thing the rest of the world is good…let them learn to play american sports – then it will be business as usual. Having said that, the USA will WIN 2010!

  4. Americo

    October 11, 2009 at 12:13 am

    !Viva Mexico!

  5. sam

    October 10, 2009 at 11:41 pm

    casey with a brace so far, donavan on the free kick!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. keep the change

    October 10, 2009 at 7:59 pm

    @JMB321 – Dude, you are boring. I bet you’re really fun at parties huh?

  7. Look Here

    October 10, 2009 at 4:28 pm

  8. Mike Dawson

    October 10, 2009 at 2:21 pm

    Gulati needs to concentrate on his job, which, in addition to building a national soccer program that is second to none, is also to raise the visibility of this great sport in the US. One goal leads eventually to the other. As of today, Los Angeles county with its 12 million residents and hundreds of thousands of soccer fans has only one pub showing the english language feed of the US national teams crucial world cup qualifier against Honduras today. Unforgivable! Englands national team however is able to get a portion of the $25.00 pay per view fee that their qualifier is available for throughout this country. The explanation of this on the US Soccer website is lame.

  9. eplnfl

    October 10, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Looking forward to your next piece Kartik. As well as the US qualifiying for South Africa. Even a Captain America type as I am believes the youth system needs to be overhauled.

    Why can’t we win the next World Cup. I know, Brazil, Spain, France, Germany. It seems to me that the only teams that can’t win the WC are those who do not qualify like the so called powerhouses of Argentina and Portugal. If we continue to have no expectations of victory then our players will feel the same why. Jamie Trecker points out we can have the occasional great performance. Will what is stopping us but ourselves from the standard good performance that means we can have a chance to advance far into next years WC tournament. So lets challenge the field and ourselves, team members and fans alike to expect our best and do our best. Egypt, Spain, and Brazil for a half saw it, and we can make it happen again, with a lot of luck, and stay injury free and get the right draw.

    • r penhaligen

      October 10, 2009 at 2:56 pm

      It helps to be able to actually see the U S team play on U S television. (U S vs Honduras ) If the U S Soccer heads, Gulati, etc… cant solve a simple problem with brodcasting, then they will never understand what the sport needs here in the U S. And we, yes all U S soccer players and fans, should demand this be fixed or these people should be out. I am sure all these people will be able to watch this game. Guess how many places in Montana I can go watch it. 0, in the whole state.

      • eplnfl

        October 10, 2009 at 3:30 pm

        Thats a real problem. Yet, and Kartik or Chris can tell you much more about it, the USSF has little to do about Tv rights for away qualification games. I live in the north suburban area of Chicago and would have to travel 45 minutes on a Saturday night to see the game. Longer than that when you factor in traffic and parking.

  10. Kevin_Amold

    October 10, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Are you confident Kartik, that Costa Rica will lay such a massive egg against the Soca Warriors at home? Sure they have a new manager, but it’s still Saprissa, and T&T are still bottom of the table. Right? What are you seeing that I’m not?

  11. Joey Clams

    October 10, 2009 at 9:08 am

    The hype four years ago was bad enough. Have the clowns not learned anything?

  12. JMB321

    October 10, 2009 at 8:43 am


    Thanks for taking up the challenge in presenting realistic and achievable ways to improve US Soccer in the current environment. We recognize it may make for more compelling reading in the blogosphere to be negative and deconstrut the status quo. To rise above the ever-increasing online noise of soccer blogs to present your recommendations will make a damn good blog that much better. Looking forward to it but be prepared to have your flak jacket ready! ( Not necessarily from me but from the chronic naysayers out there.)

    As for Gulati, after reading his comments carefully, it is no great leap of faith to assume the claim is posturing for the press. I give him the benefit of the doubt. A big part of his job is to keep the money flowing and enhance the level of TV coverage. The attitude of the general American public, sponsors and mainstream media would not accept a “we’ll do the best we can” approach to the next World Cup. The soccer community knows better and so does Gulati. It is an unfortunate by-product of the still immature level of the development of the sport here but necessary. I am sure you will cover that in your upcoming series.

  13. Kevin

    October 10, 2009 at 8:42 am

    “Once the USSF, and its mouthpieces finally acknowledge the program is not where it should be” Ouch d’em fighting words 🙂

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