Sad. Pathetic. Maddening.
Those are just a few descriptives for the performance turned in by the United States Men’s National Team as it failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
When the Hexagonal began in November of 2016 with a home loss to Mexico and a brutal four-goal defeat at Costa Rica, then-head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was about to lose his job and many fingers were pointed his way, mine included.
But in the end, who the head coach was/is mattered little. The players on the pitch, many based in Major League Soccer, must now carry the blame and the burden of being the first U.S. men’s team to miss the World Cup since 1986. Some such as Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard are aging and U.S. Soccer hung on too long to the legacies of these players and others at the expense of getting younger players involved.
Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley moved to MLS from time in the Premier League and Serie A respectively. While Altidore struggled in England, Bradley was a solid performer for Rome. But the return to MLS, a league clearly below the top European leagues, did little to help either player improve their skills.
As for the head coach, Bruce Arena, who returned to replace Klinsmann, appeared to have a game plan. But the execution on the field was poor and the players often appeared to be playing as 11 individuals, not one team.
This under-achieving group did prove to be adept at being thin-skinned. When former USMNT star Alexi Lalas called the players out heading into the final two matches of the Hex, the response from many of the players was what one would expect from a group of rich, spoiled athletes.
Bradley responded by saying comments such as those from Lalas are used as “motivation” and that “The lion doesn’t care about the opinion of the sheep.” Howard called Lalas a “mediocre” player. Perhaps Bradley should have re-read Lalas’ comments and shared them with his goalkeeper before the T&T match. Bradley looked old and slow and Howard was shaky at best.
And, ultimately Mr. Bradley, the lion proved to be toothless and the sheep — your fans and the incredibly loyal American Outlaws — are left gutted and now must wait four years for another shot at a World Cup.
Let’s hope hitting rock bottom leads to significant changes for U.S. Soccer. Promotion/Relegation in the U.S. professional ranks would also be a good thing, too.