The US isn’t going to the World Cup. As shocking as that is, it’s the reality of the situation. The US were quite frankly terrible throughout the entirety of qualification (even going back to the semi-final round where they needed a 4-0 win against Guatemala to avoid being dumped out) and honestly deserved this fate.
You will never sell me that that group of 11 players that took the field against Trinidad & Tobago cared at all about making it to Russia. The complete lack of effort, the walking around, the end result is an absolute disgrace. Everybody not named Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood had better take a long hard look at themselves and ask how did they let it get to this? So with no World Cup next summer to look forward to, the US must look way into the future (the next meaningful games won’t be played until around July of 2019 at the Gold Cup) and figure out how to make sure this never happens again. Obviously change at the top within the federations but that’s already been written about a dozen times in the last 24 hours. The focus now should be on overhauling the player pool.
Here are some players that we need to see more of and some players that we never need to see again.
Players to phase out and/or drop entirely
Jozy Altidore – For years Jozy Altidore has been hyped as a great player for the US. But now fans are sick of him. He rarely scores in clutch moments but if you’re up 5-1 against St. Vincent & the Grenadines or you need an opening goal in a January camp friendly against Iceland or you’re up 3-0 in the 80th minute against Guatemala he’s there. If you need an equalizer with your World Cup hopes on the line? Not so much. Not only does he only score when the US doesn’t need him to, he spends 50% of the game just whining. Whining about poor service, whining about the referee, whining about everything. In ten Hexagonal games, he registered just two goals. That’s not acceptable. He’s now third all-time on the US scoring charts and for him to get any closer to the record would be a travesty of justice to Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey (who both scored big goals in big moments time and time again). Get out.
Matt Besler – He’s been a trooper going back to 2013 but Besler is no longer cutting it on the international stage. He’s now 30 years old and it’s really starting to show. He’s just too slow. That’s a killer against fast, counter-attacking Central American teams. Besler is now at a point where if he has to go a full 90, there is going to be a serious defensive lapse because he’s too tired to get to where he needs to be (that was made brutally clear at the World Cup in 2014 on Belgium’s first goal in the Round of 16). Time to retire.
Michael Bradley – Another guy who’s antics fans have grown incredibly tired of. Fans are tired of him passing the ball to the other team and tired of him just running in circles at midfield and tired of him blowing smoke in press conferences. He’s been the captain for the better part of the last four years and just failed as a leader and as a teammate. Alexi Lalas put it best when he went on the now infamous rant when he called out Bradley and said we don’t need you to be Zen we need you to be good. Sadly, that fell on deaf ears as Michael Bradley continued to blow hot air, but failed to register a goal or an assist in these final two qualifiers. Bradley’s national team career should be done and if we’re being honest with ourselves it should have been done after his performance against Argentina at the Copa America. Get out.
Clint Dempsey – This is a hard one to do but it has to happen. Father Time is undefeated and sadly, Dempsey is no exception to the rule. He’s been the US’ best player for the better part of the last six years. He’s tied for the most goals scored in US history. But he’s lost his starting spot and with the exception of the Gold Cup semi-final, he hasn’t provided much of a spark off the bench. Time to retire.
Benny Feilhaber – This shouldn’t even be an issue because he shouldn’t even have been called in but here we are. There’s a reason that Jurgen Klinsmann never called Feilhaber into a national team camp: he’s not any good. But then Klinsmann got fired and Feilhaber got called into the January Camp where he failed to produce anything of note. No matter because Arena didn’t call him in again. Well that is until this round of World Cup Qualifying with the USA’s hopes and dreams on the line. Down 2-1 with 15 minutes to save themselves Bruce Arena called on Feilhaber to save the day. Needless to say, he didn’t do it. All of this for a guy who is 32 years old. Get out.
Omar Gonzalez – All during his time with the US in 2013, fans screamed for his head. He made mistake after mistake after mistake, whether it was being too slow to react, leaving opposing players completely unmarked or failing to clear a dangerous ball. Nevertheless he went to the World Cup in Brazil where he gave a good account of himself. He since made a move from LA Galax to Liga MX. But his performances with the MNT of late have left plenty to be desired and it was his own goal against Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday night that got the disastrous ball rolling. Gonzalez is almost 30 and there’s not much that he brings to the table that a whole host of younger center-backs don’t also bring. Time to drop him.
Tim Howard – Another difficult one to do but it has to be done. For all of his heroics in Brazil in 2014 and for all his steady play in the years prior to that, Tim Howard has not been good this cycle. First came the year and a half sabbatical from the national team in 2015 (which he got a pass for but Landon Donovan got crucified for). Then he came back but only after making a move from Everton to the Colorado Rapids. His play at times has left US fans scratching their heads and his play in the home loss to Costa Rica was bad as well as his play in the loss to Trinidad & Tobago. Time to retire.
Graham Zusi – Sort of in the same boat as Matt Besler. Been a solid contributor for a number of years now but age is catching up with him. He’s been serviceable as a defender but that’s not a natural fit for him. It’s not that he’s been bad for the US but he’s on the wrong side of 30 and as is the case with Omar Gonzalez, there are younger options that bring the same stuff to the table. Time to retire.
There’s a few other players that need to be phased out or dropped completely that don’t even merit a full paragraph: Damarcus Beasley, Tim Ream, Michael Orozco, Alejandro Bedoya, Dax McCarty, Chris Wondolowski, Sacha Kljestian and Gyasi Zardes. If the US wants to have better players, more talent players or more skillful players all of the guys listed above have got to go.
Players to keep and/or bring in
Paul Arriola – He’s fast, he’s young and he can make things happen. He’s played in Liga MX for the last few years before moving to DC United. He’s got 14 caps and 2 goals to his name and would be a good attacking midfielder for years to come with the US.
John Brooks – His presence was sorely missed during these last four World Cup Qualifiers (he was out with an injury). Brooks is the best defender the US has and it’s no coincidence that he plays in the Bundesliga in Germany. He’s only 24 so we should see a lot of home for a long time to come.
Geoff Cameron – This is a tricky one because he is 32 so maybe he doesn’t need to stay around until the next World Cup but maybe through the 2019 Gold Cup to help teach younger players how to do their jobs. He plays regularly in the Premier League and that is a quality that cannot afford to be wasted any more.
Cameron Carter-Vickers – Not that 19-year old wunderkind but a different one. He started his youth career at Tottenham Hostpur before being loaned out to Sheffield United. He’s played at the youth levels for the US and it’s time to bring him into the fold.
Dom Dwyer – Just became a US citizen and earned his first call-up as part of the Gold Cup this summer. He scored in his first two appearances for the US as well (before missing a penalty in the final group stage game). His motor and all-out effort was something the US was severely lacking against Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday night.
Julian Green – It seems like so long ago that the US tried so hard to get Julian Green to play for the US. He did and he went to the World Cup where he even scored a goal but it’s been tough sledding for him at the club level. He’s still only 22 years old and he showed flashes of his ability the last time he was called in to the national team.
Aron Johannsson – When Johannsson was on the field, good things happened. In his 19 appearances with the US he scored 4 goals and set up a few more. The issue with Johannsson is that he seems to be injury prone. He tore it up in the Dutch league before making a move to the Bundesliga where he’s had a rough go of it. Still, he’s only 26 and is a solid attacking threat.
Fabian Johnson – He has said that he was going to retire after the 2018 World Cup but obviously the US isn’t going. It’s on whoever replaces Bruce Arena to try to convince Johnson to keep playing for the US. He plays week in and week out in the Bundesliga and his skill and versatility is what the US really needed during these last two qualifiers.
Matt Miazga – The one-time New York Red Bulls that made a move to Chelsea a few years ago. Obviously Chelsea loaned him out but he’s done well for himself at Vitesse in Holland. He’s only 22 years old and has three caps and one goal to his name.
Jordan Morris – He’s young and had a solid summer at the Gold Cup for the US. He’s 22 and in his 24 appearances for the US has scored 5 goals and unlike Jozy Altidore has done so in a few clutch moments (he got the winner in the last few minutes in two games at the Gold Cup including the final).
Darlington Nagbe – He’s got speed and he’s one of the few US players with creativity and skill. There is a sense that he could do wonder if he didn’t have to share a midfield with Michael Bradley (he does pretty well for the Portland Timbers). The only potential issue here is that he is 27 years old.
Christian Pulisic – This pretty much goes without saying. After the US loss against Trinidad & Tobago there was a sentiment echoed across bars and social media: “Everybody not named Pulisic, get out now.” This kid is 19 and put his heart and soul into trying to drag the US kicking and screaming to the World Cup. Got a bright future ahead of him at Borussia Dortmund.
Jorge Villafana – Has been relatively solid at left back for the US. Defends well, attacks decently. He’s a solid two way player. He does well playing for Santos Laguna in Liga MX too. But as is the case with Geoff Cameron and Darlington Nagbe his age could be an issue as he is 28 years old. So maybe not an entire World Cup cycle for him but maybe through the 2019 Gold Cup.
Bobby Wood – Easily the second best player for the US over the last three years. He basically only scores when it matters. He has 10 goals for the US to date. 5 of them have come in World Cup Qualifying, one was at the Copa America, one was an extra time equalizer against Mexico in the CONCACAF Cup and even two of his goals in friendlies were last minute winners against the Netherlands and Germany.
DeAndre Yedlin – Yedlin has benefitted hugely from his move to Newcastle United from Tottenham. Under the tutelage of Rafa Benitez, he has morphed into a fantastic defender (he had always been solid going forward, as exhibited in his substitute appearances at the 2014 World Cup). With a world class coach teaching him at a massive club in the Premier League Yedlin will be an US asset for a long time, as he’s only 24 years old.
These are but a few of the players who should be called in or continue to get call ups going forward. Obviously missing on the World Cup is a complete and total failure and that’s why these changes have to be made. Luckily, whoever the new manager is will have over a year and a half before the US plays another meaningful game to get all of this figure out. And whoever it is better get it figured out because not only will failure no longer be tolerated (we hope) but at this point there needs to be some panache to it as well.