US Soccer’s Road to Disappointment

Aidan Reagh is a German-speaking American (kind of like John Brooks). He likes to write about the Bundesliga and all things football. Here, he dissects the US Men’s National Team’s failings, and decides who needs to go, and who needs to be brought in to turn the ship around.

On October 10th, 2017, the United States Men’s National Team had one job. Don’t lose to Trinidad and Tobago. A draw against one of CONCACAF’s most underwhelming sides would have been enough to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup without sweating.

The win that should have been an easy accomplishment did not come. The Football Gods were clearly not on the US’ side, as Honduras and Panama pulled off shocking late wins against Mexico and Costa Rica.

Many things have gone wrong in US Soccer. Unfortunately, it would not be financially feasible for me to mail every high ranking member of the US Federation a copy of Raphael Honigstein’s Das Reboot. However, one option is to just clean the slate and start fresh.

“If You Aren’t Fired with Enthusiasm, You Will be Fired with Enthusiasm”- Vince Lombardi

Vince Lombardi is an enthusiasm advocate. From top to bottom, Vince Lombardi would be grabbing people by their shirt collars and tossing them left and right in US Soccer. The side has fallen into complacency, the standards are low enough where players seem quite alright with losing to Trinidad and Tobago. Instead of training hard for a must-win game, the players instead took the practice lightly and spent more time distracted by the less than ideal flooding around the pitch than they did worrying about what needed to be done. You practice like you play, and the federation has allowed mediocrity.

So, who should be fired? I have taken the time to make a shortlist.

Sunil Gulati (US Soccer Federation President)
Don Garber (MLS Commissioner)
Rishi Sehgal (NASL Interim Commissioner)
Bruce Arena (USMNT Manager)
Dave Sarachan, Pat Noonan, and Kenny Arena (The Assistants)
Brian Johnson and Carson Porter (US Soccer Technical Advisors)

Mr. President

Sunil Gulati has been affiliated with US Soccer since 2006. 11 years, and all he has to show for it is stagnation. It is undeniable that the beautiful game has grown in the US since Gulati has taken over, however it is also fair to say that most of the growth has been organic thanks to the increase of soccer-playing immigrants in the US.

Sunil Gulati has failed to prevent conflicts between MLS commissioner Don Garber and former USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann or former NASL commissioner Bill Peterson. Given that Gulati is essentially a CEO of a company, his skills for workplace relations clearly need some improvement. He also took far too long to fire Jurgen Klinsmann. Gulati either stays silent or fails to pull the trigger at times he is most needed. Until he can take the bull by the horns, he should stick to either lecturing at Columbia University or, dare I say, being the Vice President of FIFA.

US Soccer is holding a presidential election for the federation and one has to think that failing to qualify for the World Cup is surely a hefty blow to Gulati’s chances.


The Men and Their Leagues

Oh Don Garber do I have some words for you… Don Garber has somehow managed to get Sunil Gulati so deep into his pocket, it is impressive. Commissioner Garber actually has a serious amount of control in US Soccer, which has become clear thanks to his disagreements with Klinsmann and the NASL, and how the results have been in Garber’s favor.

Oh, Garber is upset that Klinsmann is not using his league’s players? Klinsmann is shown the door and is replaced by a man who everyone knows will try and use exclusively MLS players whenever possible. MLS affiliate USL’s rise to division 2 status caused chaos and hell for the NASL, a league that is not known for positive relations with MLS. Now, I am starting to paint the picture of Don Garber being this evil antagonist working to create a monopoly over US Soccer. To some people, that is completely accurate. However, it is not that simple. Don Garber is a businessman, and a good one. His efforts are always in the best interest of growing Major League Soccer and ensuring the league is successful. Unfortunately, there are times where one must bite the bullet and accept that things do not always go the “right” way. Don Garber cannot do that, and that is why he should join Sunil Gulati in an exit from US Soccer.

Just because Don Garber cannot always play nice does not let the other commissioners off the hook. Reality check: The NASL is a failing league. The sooner NASL accepts Division 3 status, the sooner we can get on with our lives and stop watching the power struggle between NASL and USL for division 2 rights. The ability to compromise is a gift and it is a gift that Rishi Seghal does not have. Seghal is only commissioner on an interim basis right now, and ideally it will not become anything more. The next league commissioner should not be a mere yes-man for MLS, but it should be someone who should be able to realize that sometimes survival is more important than pride.

Bruce and His Boys

Bruce Arena has failed and it is not a hot take to say that he should be sacked. In fact, it is widely expected that he will be sacked. It is also common knowledge that when a manager is axed, his staff often leave with him.

Arena was, quite simply, the wrong hire. He was brought in with the sole goal of qualifying for the World Cup. Bruce Arena failed. The claim of “Well this is just as much Jurgen Klinsmann’s fault as it is Bruce Arena’s.” is simply a joke of a claim. This is Bruce Arena’s roster. All he had to do was lead the US to a draw, just a draw, against the worst team in CONCACAF qualifying. Jurgen Klinsmann got the US into the mud. Bruce Arena shoved the USMNT’s face down into it.

Who is Next?

The Realistic Choice: Tab Ramos

Tab Ramos is the current United States U-20 Manager and Youth Director, with previous experience as the US assistant manager under Jurgen Klinsmann. Ramos could be a very plausible shout for a promotion to manager of the national team. When it comes to the US Youth System, Ramos is at the helm of what may be the US Golden Generation.

Prospects ranging from Bundesliga eye-catchers Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Weston McKennie (Schalke), and Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen) to England products Lynden Gooch (Sunderland), Emerson Hyndman (Bournemouth), and Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham) showcase at least some of Ramos’ capabilities. Ramos knows the players that will be needed for a World Cup 2022 run and he is already in-house. When it comes to possible replacements, Ramos seems to be the most realistic option.


The Dream Choice: David Wagner

There are dreams and there is insanity. That is why the dream shout for US fans is not Carlo Ancelotti but rather Huddersfield Town manager David Wagner. David Wagner originally managed Borussia Dortmund II during the Jurgen Klopp era and moved to a struggling Huddersfield Town with the goal of saving the team from a potential relegation. Things went well.

In the summer of 2016, Wagner decided the team needed to bond a bit. Thus, Huddersfield Town vacationed in Sweden and the players were given only the necessities in a survival situation. The bonding worked, Huddersfield Town won the Sky Bet Championship Playoff and achieved promotion to The Premier League. As of October 11th, Huddersfield Town sit comfortably mid-table in the Premier League.

Wagner has shown his talents, he is a good manager who is more than capable of rallying the squad, which the USMNT could use. Unfortunately for Sunil Gulati, why would he leave Huddersfield Town to manage friendlies every couple of months? David Wagner is the dream choice for the national team, but the national team is probably not a dream choice for him.

The Wildcard: Lars Lagerbäck

Lars Lagerbäck is a veteran manager with a vast amount of experience, most famous for leading Iceland to inspiring results in Euro 2016. The original plan when he left Iceland was to retire, but Norway came calling and talked the 69 year old Swede into going back to the touchline.

Since 2000, Lagerbäck has managed Sweden, Nigeria, Iceland, and Norway. With those four teams, Lagerbäck’s lowest unbeaten percentage was 59% (with Iceland) while achieving over 70% with the other three sides. Given his unbeaten percentage and desire to retire at some point in his life, Lars Lagerbäck could be incredibly interested in taking over the United States Men’s National Team as the last job with the goal of ending his career with a fairly respectable side. He may not be the most glamorous choice, but he gets results and he could be exactly what the squad needs.

The United States Men’s National Team travelled down the Road to Russia, but just like Napoleon Bonaparte, failed in a very ugly fashion. At least the Yanks have the Women’s National Team to win matches.

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