Gutted … But Not Gone

Posted on Posted in Development, Pay to play

You feel that? You feel gutted, right?

Can you feel, today, that feeling like your face just got hit with a Mack Truck?

Does your stomach turn with every thought of the past few hours?

Are you experiencing sleeplessness over what transpired the night before?

You rewind in your minds’ eye to remember each moment, each second, and finally it all comes together:

 

THE UNITED STATES MEN’S TEAM WILL NOT BE GOING TO THE WORLD CUP IN RUSSIA!

 

Let this sink deep and hard so you don’t try to forget what you and I just witnessed:

 

THE UNITED STATES MEN’S TEAM WILL NOT BE GOING TO THE WORLD CUP IN RUSSIA!

 

To any fan in America – on any level – who cares about our place on the world’s stage of World Football, this morning is one of absolute devastation and gloom. In a year of moments we’d like to forget as a nation, in a year where all aspects of American life are shaken, the American soccer fans had looked forward to a moment of hopeful enthusiasm as our squad of men would punch their ticket to Moscow. We assured ourselves they bought a ticket on the plane to Russia because surely … surely … we cold beat Trinidad and Tobago with our mighty men of the game.

 

So much for our arrogance.

 

If not for the stellar performance of the U.S. phenom Christian Pulisic we’d be shut out by this hungry Trinidad/Tobago squad. One squad played with passion and purpose; one squad (save one player) played like their time was up. Let’s face it: Our squad looked old, tired and way past their prime to be on the pitch. We didn’t want to hear this but the truth stood in front of us for 90 minutes. The truth about not just our squad, but the coaching, the leadership and the whole apparatus of U.S. Soccer infrastructure stared back in our face.

 

It was not how it was suppose to happen.

 

Imagine Fox Sports execs who will face this morning thinking they overspent for a scenario which will never be. It’s like buying that expensive car thinking you’d drive your new toy all over the place only to get into an accident totaling your car. I’ve seen grown men cry on the side of the road after their Porsche was totaled in an accident. This is what Fox Sports programmers and executives feel like!

 

Who’s To Blame?

 

Look in the mirror.

Look at it.

American soccer great Taylor Twellman of ESPN gave the diagnosis of American soccer in one segment of passionate reason better than anything I’ve witnessed since following the sport.

 

“The arrogance surrounding this sport, in this country, bothers me!”

 

Let that ring in your ears America!

 

We were so sure of our standings, we punched the ticket before making sure the money was in the bank.

 

That trip to Russia… gone!

That watch party… gone!

Thinking we can ride the back of a 19 year old wonder kid… GONE!

 

In fact, out of everyone on the pitch Tuesday night, Pulisic played like a world class player! Now, where are the rest of the players like him in the United States? I’m afraid we don’t have it! And I can lay blame on a lot of things, but I will save it for future articles laying out the foundation of what needs to be done from here.

 

But the damage is done.

 

We sit on the edge of Ground Zero and we wonder how do we go on? How can we look ourselves in the mirror and say “everything is alright” because everything is NOT alright! Just writing this leaves a bitter pill to swallow because I wanted this squad to make it like they did before.

 

Twellman is right.

 

If we can’t defeat a country like Trinidad and Tobago on a crappy pitch with the smallest crowd these men have played for, then we don’t deserve to go to the World Cup. We don’t deserve to call out European clubs saying we are the best in the world. The cold hard truth is our entire system of producing players – men and women – from pay to play, to “player development” to the way we run our “divisions” and “leagues” and the multi-billion dollar structures and catering one league over the others and the entire politics of the game, are now laid bare open for scrutiny.

 

My advice is simple: Like this nation has done before when it needed someone to get our military together, we need some world class advice and leadership to help right the ship that is U.S. Soccer.

 

A Soccer Von Steuben

 

General Friedrich Wilhelm Von Steuben came from Germany and was touted as a military genius. He came on the behest of General George Washington because the young American military was in need of discipline and an identity. Having men who came from various military disciplines such as France and Britain each member marched under how they were taught before.  What Von Steuben provided for the Continental Army was discipline, military drills, and tactics. He set the standard which lasted until the Civil War giving the young nation an identity on the battlefield.

 

The United States soccer infrastructure needs the soccer equivalent of a Gen. Von Steuben to help us have an identity on the world stage. It is VITAL we get someone to tell us the cold hard truths we need to hear, organize everything from club play to our national squads to our youth program and development… EVERYTHING!

 

Pride and arrogance are gone! We cannot continue another day supporting a program and a federation which is caught up in status quo thinking. We need to think about the future and how this sport – and our part of it – begins to matter in the world again. And if you think this can’t be done here in this nation, think again!!

 

As Twellman explained passionately, the Germans had a 10 year plan to get the leagues and youth squads on the same page and in ten years time hoisted a World Cup trophy. They are poised to repeat again because their whole program is working as good as a German engine.

 

Japan and Australia (both nations going to Russia) turned their programs around after national disgrace, throwing caution to the wind and deciding it was time for an overhaul and to hell with arrogance.

 

Even lowly Iceland, a nation of a few million, got together to turn their program around from the youth level up. This nation went to the semi finals of the UEFA Euros 2016 for the first time in their history, just missing the chance to reach the finals. But their play, the fans and what they brought to the world stage made them the darlings of the European tournament. Two nights before writing this, they qualified, for the first time, to go to the World Cup in Russia next year.

 

For America to proceed, I believe we need outside help fast and we need to be willing to listen to it. We need to clean out the old guard… no exceptions! Those players who played on the field this past World Cup Qualifier matches need to retire from International play. No more sugar coating it! This will be a loss they will feel for a long time and there’s nothing they can do to change it. The leadership of Sunil Gulati, Don Garber (Major League Soccer) and Bruce Arenas should go! If they are smart, resignations should be on the table like yesterday. I also think Major League Soccer’s influence on the national squad should be minimized until the club structure is opened and a new structure which promotes (what the rest of the world uses) progression based on merit and not wallet.

 

Anyone balking at this has no ground anymore because our arrogance has been exposed. Any talk of how “my ideas are crazy” has no weight anymore!

 

THE UNITED STATES MEN’S TEAM WILL NOT BE GOING TO THE WORLD CUP IN RUSSIA!

 

This reality is the only thing I need to hold up to squash any rebuttal because frankly there is no more excuses.

 

I write this with anger in my fingers and a rage in my cage! I’m gutted. I write this because I wanted to see this squad play against the world’s best. The truth is we don’t belong on the stage. Until we’re willing to make the changes necessary this pain will continue for a long time.

 

So roll up your sleeves.

Stand up.

Pick up your tool.

Begin to dig deep.

It’s time to renew our standing in the world again!

 

We’re gutted… but not gone.

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