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Sunil Gulati

Blame Sunil Gulati for USA’s failure, not players nor Bruce Arena

An era of arrogance and excess at US Soccer has yielded what in hindsight was a predictable result. The United States have missed the FIFA World Cup for the first time in over thirty years.

Despite the good fortune the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) received with the weakness of CONCACAF opposition – Honduras is going through a rebuilding phase and Panama’s aging “Golden Generation” seemed to have missed their best shot at qualifying for the World Cup or winning continental silverware in the last cycle – the USMNT still managed to miss qualification. Despite beating those two opponents by a combined scoreline of 10-0 in home qualifiers this year, the United States finished behind both and missed the World Cup after a stunning 2-1 loss in Couva against last-place Trinidad and Tobago.

In the match, the US was second best most of the night showing none of the fight or determination that proponents of the USMNT program claim is inherent in American players. In fact the US men looked a spent and defeated force most of the night, one that could not be bothered to toughen up and get a result. That reflects on the culture of entitlement and lack of accountability that has permeated US Soccer for years.

SEE MORE: What did Sunil Gulati know about Chuck Blazer’s bribes?

The failure of the United States falls squarely at the feet of the United States Soccer Federation (USSF) and its president Sunil Gulati, who has had a leading role in the game in this country for thirty years.

Under Gulati’s watch in his most recent term as USSF President that began in 2014, we’ve witnessed the following calamities under his leadership:

1) A promising generation of US Soccer players missed qualification for the 2016 Summer Olympics despite hosting the qualifying tournament. This was a stunning failure given the number of young US players already featured at professional clubs in the US and abroad when compared to the CONCACAF opposition.

2) The FIFA scandal erupted with much of the wrongdoing having taken place on US soil. Gulati and his allies acted as if they were innocent or even worse yet victims. The USSF for years had benefited from the relationship Chuck Blazer, but whose corrupt behavior was the genesis of the initial investigations by the DOJ and FBI. Gulati’s relationship with Blazer was never fully scrutinized by most in the US media as an effort was made to project the scandal as revolving around foreigners and Americans involved in NASL, a rogue second division that had clashed with Gulati’s USSF.

3) MLS, the United States’ first division, has publicly linked itself to the USMNT and has an established commercial relationship with Gulati’s USSF. But the league has very quietly moved away from building its product around American players and coaches, shifting toward a model that scouts well in Latin America and promotes those players. Currently you could argue none of the top ten players in MLS are Americans for the first time in the league’s history.

4) The US Women’s National Team (USWNT), the reigning world champions who have accomplished a lot more than the men both on and off the field, were locked in an equal pay dispute with Gulati’s USSF. The USWNT players eventually agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) which gave higher pay but still not equal pay to the men who have now missed qualification for a 32 team World Cup in Russia.

5) The USSF under Gulati now face a major antitrust lawsuit filed by the NASL who claim the nation’s soccer governing body have engaged in anticompetitive practices to promote MLS. A preliminary hearing has been set for October 31.

6) And perhaps most importantly, it was not only Sunil Gulati’s decision to appoint Jurgen Klinsmann as coach of the US Men’s National Team, but Gulati made the calculated error of also making Klinsmann the technical director. By doing so, it gave Klinsmann too much power at a critical time when the US team needed someone with a better vision and tactical plan to improve the national team. Gulati’s decision to put all of his eggs in one basket with Klinsmann ultimately ensured that the German coach stayed in his position for longer than he deserved. His successor, Bruce Arena, was thrown in near the end of the World Cup qualification cycle with little time or prowess to make improvements.

SEE MORE: FOX Sports suffers $200 million hangover after US fails to qualify for World Cup

While all this has gone on in the last few years, many in the US Soccer media who have viewed advocacy of the USMNT and protection of the program as a “cause,” have allowed Gulati a free hand. Few have questioned his leadership beyond the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann whose criticisms of MLS rubbed many of the insiders the wrong way. Klinsmann was a poor manager and deserved to be sacked by the USSF – but his replacement Bruce Arena was an establishment choice that indicated a certain doubling-down on the current system and leadership.

The lack of accountability in US Soccer is astounding. Large elements of the media won’t ask the tough questions and seem more invested in protecting access and the parties in power than forcing effective change. The leadership in US Soccer always wants to blame others and projects massive insecurities and an inferiority complex with the rest of the world through public statements. These comments are often parroted by media members and others invested in protecting the status quo – a status quo that has now resulted in massive failure.

Sunil Gulati and the US Soccer Federation are to blame for the failure of the US to advance to the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Now will those who cover and enjoy the game in this country finally force positive change?

Photo credit: Steven Goff

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  1. Julio Manuel Castaneda

    October 13, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    Mexico National Team fans: Gulati IN!!! Four more years!!

  2. Mike

    October 12, 2017 at 4:14 pm

    Gulati needs to go and so does Arena. Rehiring Arena was a sign of a lack of vision. Arena showed his poor coaching. Had multiple opportunities to put this away and failed. Its not on Klinsy. Its on Arena, and Gulati made that call.

  3. Lawrence Dockery

    October 11, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    Blame all of them. Gulati picked the wrong managers at all levels, the wrong managers in turn pick the wrong players, and the wrong players in turn failed to get results on the field. It’s a fire sale and everybody must go.

    • David

      October 11, 2017 at 5:51 pm

      What would ease some of the pain would be Gulati announcing he’s not running for reelection in February.

  4. Dumb Gulati

    October 11, 2017 at 2:02 pm

    And Another thing, why didn’t the coach play the game for the result we needed???? All we needed was a tie so he should have bunkered down on defense especially because of the wet field and then had the team pick a few chances to go forward………. I am so pi$$$$$ed about this result due to the poor coaching….

    • TexGOP

      October 11, 2017 at 4:11 pm

      Agree with the commentators during the game, Cobi Jones I think mentioned it. Can’t even play for a tie from the start. Have to play to win, or at least get ahead, and then park the bus if that is the strategy you want to employ. The own goal was fluke but I blame that lack of an effort of the left back to even block the cross, not so much Gonzalez. At least he tried to clear the ball. In his interview he says the offensive play deflected it slightly, thus causing the mis-hit. Not sure but that’s all it takes. Blame the lack of defense on the winger who made the cross. Oh year, and on Howard who had an open line of sight on a 40 yard shot. I don’t care how much it was dipping and swerving and knuckling – should have been tipped over the crossbar at least.

  5. CTBlues

    October 11, 2017 at 12:36 pm

    That surplus of cash laying around after the WC and Copa América Centenario better not be wasted on a new US Soccer training facility. It needs to go to funding proper training for youth coaching, eliminating pay to play soccer in this country, and scouting in places other than white suburban America.

  6. Notorious Furn

    October 11, 2017 at 12:23 pm

    Much blame to go around. To oversimplify last night…with their World Cup life on the line… I saw limited passion and “getting after it” from most of the players. Losing is bad. But losing with seemingly no grit… makes it harder.

  7. bitte! bitte

    October 11, 2017 at 11:09 am

    Sorry but MLS is TOO EASY for guys the wrong side of 30 like Kaka and Pirlo!? Hardly an elite league and have you seen how Bradley and Altidore have REGRESSED or simply gone nowhere for The USMNT since they return to domestic play? MLS was supposed to be springboard to future national team success but know this: it was BETTER with less teams in 2002!? How did we perform in Japan/Korea? Draw your own conclusions! BETTER tactics cannot hide the fact that Arriola, Nagbe, Bradley, Gonzalez, Altidore and others from MLS are NOT world class. Arena is finished as a national team manager—this much is obvious as his head-scratching lineup changes—no Acosta or Cameron in the starting X1, omitting Chandler—made ZERO sense. However, the apologists and enablers for MLS—Gulati, owners, Garber, Taylor Twellman, Lalas- and our dreadful youth development program will not make intrinsic problems disappear. We have poor Latin kids who CANNOT access our youth system who would immediate flair but the upper class whites running U.S. Soccer would rather their kids get the nod so we can lose more games away to Trinidad and lose to Costa Rica by a collective goal margin of six. IF YOU BELIEVE MLS AND YOUTH DEVELOPMENT ARE NOT OUR PROBLEMS THEN YOU ARE SUFFERING FROM DELUSIONS…and we wonder why we lose consistently!?

  8. Jay "Yankiboy" Long

    October 11, 2017 at 11:02 am

    With all due respect to my friend who authored this piece: I’m not letting the players or the technical staff off the hook. This was multifaceted failure. Gulati–as many problems as I have with him can’t score, run, defend to save a shot.

    He’s a HUGE part of the problem but I can’t give the most privileged generation that we’ve had in our nation’s history a pass by putting all on the blame on the sport’s reigning czar in our country.

    Despite all of the systematic and organizational problems that exist: that squad still had all of the necessary tools to get the job done and they failed.


  9. David

    October 11, 2017 at 10:08 am

    I agree with mostly everything in the article but Bruce Arena should shoulder a lot of the blame as well. He was brought in to get the US to the World Cup and he failed miserably. Personally, I think everyone at US Soccer from the top down to youth level coaches needs to go. What we’ve been doing isn’t working and wholesale changes need to be made if we ever want to compete with the rest of the world. I’m in disbelief the US won’t be in Russia next summer, but looking at the big picture and trying to find a positive, maybe we needed this epic disaster to really make the changes needed in this country to move soccer forward. We’ve been stuck in neutral for far too long.

  10. Stephen

    October 11, 2017 at 10:02 am

    If we were the big-time footballing nation we aspire to be, Gulati and Arena would have already submitted letters of resignation. As it is, expect them to stay aboard the USSF gravy train for as long as they can. If this debacle doesn’t inspire a tear it down and rebuild from the ground up approach, nothing will.

  11. jason

    October 11, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Well Twellman even said he has to look at himself in the mirror along with everybody else.

    You can say about MLS that the league has done more to improve soccer in the Caribbean and Central America than the USA and Canada. Those nations have benefited huge from having MLS around and are much better for it. But for the two nations that was the intended target oft he league to help, it has done nothing. Very ironic.

  12. Anthony

    October 11, 2017 at 9:41 am

    The Promotion / Relegation issue didn’t cause a group of pedigreed athletes to lay eggs, not only last night but on a number of occasions this qualifying round. Tactics, consistency, player selection were poor throughout. Players, coaches and I guess Sunil are to blame, not MLS or pro/rel.

    Many of the players who underperformed (Jozy, Bradley, Howard) actually spent a good amount of time “developing” overseas, and our best player currently is playing at the highest level in Europe. What is needed is managers and a tactical director that encourage proper tactics and development from youth soccer on. Klinnsman was an attempt at that, and now we need another one.

  13. bitte! bitte

    October 11, 2017 at 8:45 am

    Can we please fire Don Garber and take up relegation with the Miami crowd. WHOEVER becomes the next USSF President needs to take a hard look at how awful of a product MLS is thanks to anti-competitive DP rules and and complete and total summary dismissal to EVER consider relegation. Our youth program is likewise a bad joke run by white suburbanites who do NOT have any inclination to change the “pay to play” system that rewards mediocrity. I mean MLS has been around since 1996 and I have yet to ANY players of serious quality save for Pulisic emerge from our program. I agree with the author..the idiots Lalas and Twellman DEFEND the status quo instead of asking serious questions: WHY was there never a debate between MLS and Klinsmann about the quality of players and lack thereof being drawn from this mediocre league? WHAT is being done about the MILLIONS of Latin kids in particular throughout our cities being left behind by the youth system? Can they scrap “pay-to-play” altogether? WHY NOT have youth teams with working class kids playing in ALL MLS cities across the board? The MLS draft is a joke as is the college game—get rid of that idiotic draft effective immediately! This country CAN do better but the old James Baldwin quote comes to mind: “Not everything that is faced can be changed but nothing can be changed until it is faced!”

    • TexGOP

      October 11, 2017 at 4:03 pm

      Problems with youth soccer in the U.S.: Soccer programs at public schools (in the southeast at lease) are a joke (starts with the coaching and training programs). Clubs are generally decent but are expensive. I am a board member of one and we give financial aid (no fees or reduced fees) to kids without financial means (many of whom are talented, Hispanic kids) to the extent that we can. But we can’t make it free to all those in need. Men’s college soccer is mostly just a means to a degree (not a bad thing) and not a source of talent for the professional leagues. Many athletes leave the game at the high school age for another sport that is more socially popular and could lead to a full scholarship (soccer scholarships are limited in quantity and almost always split up in value). These are just a few of the challenges facing American youth soccer today.

      • CTBlues

        October 12, 2017 at 8:23 am

        USSF could help out with those fees by spending that pile of money from the Copa America Centinario they are sitting on.

    • The Truth

      October 11, 2017 at 4:33 pm

      Garber isn’t perfect, but he’s done a good job. Look at how far MLS has come under his leadership. While the training wheels can be annoying, they are there to prevent the MLS from pulling an NASL. That being said, I think MLS is at the point now where most of the training wheels can go away.

  14. Cantona

    October 11, 2017 at 7:46 am

    Kartik, while all valid points, the USA had a squad that should have easily qualified for the World Cup.. this has to go down to the manager.. CONCACAF has one of the easiest qualification routes and the USA had a more than capable team… last night was a disgrace ..


    • TexGOP

      October 11, 2017 at 3:53 pm

      While I think Arena should be placed (not to mention a bunch of players), the 98% of the blame has to go to the players and maybe 1% each to Arena and Gulati. Total lack of energy, leadership, sense of urgency, etc. on the field last night, other than young Pulisic.

  15. Josh

    October 11, 2017 at 5:49 am

    This is spot on and still an oversimplification.

    Any youth ‘pay-to-play’ league should be banned. Pele and Maradona would’ve dug ditches their whole lives in that environment. Even youth coaches that allow parents to dictate their kids playing time should be fired. Let’s just face the fact that ground level American soccer is just as much of a joke as our top level right now. The culture is poisoned and does not develop true talent.

    NCAA soccer (sans womens due to lack of women’s leagues in the world) is not a ‘strong option’ for any player’s development. Sure its good to get playing time against other student Ath-O-letes but if you’re not in some sort of established Academy/Semi-pro team or getting calls from Europe, just focus on your degree. If you’re not top level talent by 17-21 years old, you’re unlikely to reach the levels the power houses usually employ. I know there’s loads of exceptions but I’m done hearing it.

    No soccer league in the world operates like the MLS. The league is modeled on other sports that have monopolies in their given games (NBA, NFL, MLB). Those leagues have ZERO direct competitors that force them to break their molds. Yet, MLS has the audacity to convince American players to leave the highest level of the game pretending their one of the big boys. This is somehow allowed with laughable results. Regulation and banishment of the salary cap are only a start. Recognize that ‘Superdrafts’ and old European (and American!) cast-offs are just further evidence that there’s no true development for these teams to be competitive enough to develop world class players. Protecting owners is not AT ALL a method of creating talent.

    We do have to accept the fact that building a soccer nation takes decades with top to bottom evaluation and more long term goals. Money doesn’t produce talent just cuz you have it in massive quantities. Recruiters need to be hired on epic proportions and sent to unorganized playgrounds and city blocks. The talent should be more than just lily Prep School products from the ‘burbs.

    But it starts with cutting off the head of this zombie. That’s for sure.

  16. Rob H.

    October 11, 2017 at 3:22 am

    Time to crank some JUDAS PRIEST HEAVY METAL.

    • Kris Klassen

      October 11, 2017 at 9:22 pm

      That’s what I’m talkin bout!!!!!!

  17. Steven Storlie

    October 11, 2017 at 2:46 am

    Fire him,

    Never played the game!

    Never coached a game!

    Connected to Criminals!

    Epic failure for both country and the game of soccer

    Why is he still here?

    Reason : Money and MLS soccer owners COLLUSION to get rich off crap pro league full of old foreigners, NOT AMERICANS!

    Write an article on the foreigners in our league, lack of relegation, votes for US Soccer controlled by MLS, massive scam and conflicts of interest.

    America stand up!!!!

    • Justin

      October 11, 2017 at 3:02 am

      @Steven Storlie – He can’t be fired, because he’s elected, and effectively the chief executive officer of USSF. There isn’t a higher authority within USSF that can remove him.

      All we can do is not let him win reelection next year. The calls for Wynalda to run are about to get much, much louder. There’s also some Boston attorney that wants to run.

    • Jay "Yankiboy" Long

      October 11, 2017 at 10:55 am

      Ok, Bro. I was with you a little while until you started in with the MLS old foreigners thing. Then I wasn’t sure if you were doing a comedy bit.

      Pirlo should be arrested for grand larceny. I’ll be the first to fly that flag. Most of the other dudes are earning their keep.

      As far as pro/rel, ok–you go wage that war. I have zero interest in enlisting.

    • R.O

      October 15, 2017 at 12:11 pm

      “league full of old foreigners, NOT AMERICANS!” Well – the EPL is full of non English, the Bundesliga is full of non Germans. What the heck does “Not Americans” even mean? In the EPL, majority of Managers aren’t even English.

      You do realize that America is a Continent, not a Country (Yes, I know – US of .) Are older towards end of career players coming into MLS – yup – because it’s to get people in seats for some teams/stadiums.

  18. Kendo Slice

    October 11, 2017 at 1:44 am

    The end of the qualification cycle? Brucie ball had 8 games of the original 10 to make up ground and get at least 3rd all the while blowing it every time they had a shot at locking 3rd place down.

    • Justin

      October 11, 2017 at 3:04 am

      Actually, the first several games Arena took over were quite successful, including a result in the Azteca. Then he won the Gold Cup, and everything seemed to be on track until that loss to Costa Rica. smh

      • Total Relegation

        October 11, 2017 at 10:53 am

        Gold Cup doesn’t even count. US has home field advantage every year in that stupid tournament.

  19. K

    October 11, 2017 at 1:40 am

    Well written. Totally agree. And, thank you for not pulling any punches!

  20. Rpg

    October 11, 2017 at 1:34 am

    All well said. Even though you mentioned the awful effort of the players in the t/t game, we need to be more harsh on the players that looked as if they had no heart. I was at a bar that played all 3 games at once, and comparing the hustle and determination that both Honduras and Panama had to that of the USA was almost embarrassing. We looked like we were watching the game. They all proved that thought they didn’t need to play with their heart and this game would’ve just been handed to them. I’m more sad for all the young kids all across the USA that won’t get to be able to experience a world cup with their boys in blue. Thanks for ruining summer!

    • K

      October 11, 2017 at 1:44 am

      The kids will be fine. They have their role models, they have discerning eyes. That is why many don’t watch MLS. I say pay the women equal finally as Norway have done. USMNT are slouches.

      • Justin

        October 11, 2017 at 3:06 am

        Absolutely the women should be paid equally. Gulati argues that they don’t deserve equal pay based on generated revenue for USSF, which of course absurdly misses the point.

        The women deserve equal (or better) pay because THEY actually do us PROUD.

        • Jay "Yankiboy" Long

          October 11, 2017 at 10:38 am

          Justin, I disagree. Emphatically.

          No. They most definitely should not be payed the same unless a legitimate, independent (I don’t trust the federation) audit states that they generate equal revenue.

          That’s one of the few things that I actually agree with Gulati on.

          If they generate more, they should be payed more.

          And let’s not forget the debacle in Brazil last year on the women’s side. I wasn’t feeling too “proud” after they choked and failed to break down Sweden.

          In my opinion, that was almost an equal disgrace. They didn’t do us proud.

          Having said that, they deserved a bump in compensation because I think that they aren’t getting a big enough piece of the pie for the money that they bring into the program.

          We have problems on both sides of the program. I’m not giving the women a pass for their failure last year. The federation needs an overhaul. The results last year and this year simply are good enough.

          • TexGOP

            October 11, 2017 at 1:46 pm

            Can anyone explain how it is that we have the consistently best women’s team in the world but a vastly under-indexing USMNT? I think the answer lies somewhere in the Title IX distortion that effectively prevents men’s soccer from becoming a big deal at the college level. Not enough D1 schools can offer scholarships for men’s soccer teams.

            • NaBUru38

              October 11, 2017 at 3:10 pm

              Title IX is meant to promote equality in sports, not equality in soccer. As college football is men-only, other college sports have more scholarships for women to compensate.

              • TexGOP

                October 11, 2017 at 3:44 pm

                I am not arguing whether Title IX promotes equality or not – I am proposing that it’s a factor in why men’s soccer in the U.S. is mediocre at best.

    • ribman

      October 11, 2017 at 3:33 pm

      yep especially when the best player in the world was playing like his life depended on it I think US players could have shown more urgency and commitment. The US youth system is counterproductive, it will develop certain types of players but not creative, instinctual, mentally tough ones.. Keep your club system fine but starting building fields in inner cities and get good coaches at those schools, give them equipment and let them play other sports.

      • TexGOP

        October 11, 2017 at 3:46 pm

        I think you are hitting on something….until soccer appeals to the entire athletic pool, the sport will continue to suffer. But how do you build fields in inner cities?

        • CTBlues

          October 12, 2017 at 8:20 am

          How did Iceland build fields on a volcanic rock that basically covered in ice a snow most of the year?

          • R.O

            October 15, 2017 at 12:03 pm

            Indoor complexes. Watch Roger Bennett & Vice Sports -You Tube video that was made during the 2016 Euro’s. Search You Tube for “The Vikings’ Shocking Euro Run: The Unbelievable Rise of Icelandic Soccer”

    • Santiago1314

      October 15, 2017 at 6:52 am

      Having been involved with the National Team, I can say for sure…Chuck was always around and involved in setting up games with Sunil…To think that a Man, as Brilliant as Sunil (Economics Professor at Columbia) Didn’t know what was going on, is to “Suspend Disbelieve” (Thanks for that one Hillary)…I theorize that Sunil Squealed to DOJ, and that is how he had stayed above this…Having said that, Let me say This ***Chuck Blazer must be Rolling over in his Double Wide Grave Somewhere…If he were still around, the Appropriate Trinidadian, Panamanian and Honduran players(Not to mention the Refs) would have been “Taken Care Of” to assure a USA Qualification…
      You all think it is a Coincidence that we Don’t Qualify after 30 years and there is “No more Chuck to Kick around”.???…Think again.!!!….
      Just trying to Bring a Little Levity to the situation, cause I’m still at this Bar, crying in my Guinness.

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