Press Box: U.S. Soccer’s dwindling stars haven’t earned their stripes

Illustration by Allison Verjinski.
Illustration by Allison Verjinski.

Perhaps no one embodies the U.S. Men’s National Team’s has-been standing in world soccer quite like Bruce Arena.

Before his second stint as coach of the Yanks, which culminated in epic World Cup failure — the first time the team failed to qualify for the competition since 1986 — he coached in the mediocre Major League Soccer. Before that, he led the national team to an impressive run to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals. Four years later, the team didn’t make it out of the competition’s group stage.

To no one’s surprise, Arena resigned after the team’s 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago earlier this month which meant the U.S. wouldn’t compete among the world’s best in Russia next summer.

“While this is a difficult time, I maintain a fierce belief that we are heading in the right direction,” Arena wrote in an optimistic press release saying goodbye. “I believe in the American player and the American coach, and with our combined efforts the future remains bright.”

What?

Truth is, Arena’s fierce belief that all is right in this sinking ship is extremely misguided.

If the future of the American player were so bright, Arena wouldn’t have selected a roster with the average age of 30 to lose to Trinidad. Ironically, the team’s star player, Christian Pulisic, is 19 years old but was the only boy among men on that team.

Pulisic is the only player on that team whose career is thriving in one of Europe’s top leagues — the fact he’s played more than 10 UEFA Champions League games for Borossia Dortmund at his age is remarkable.

Fellow attacker Jozy Altidore, however, was rewarded by MLS with a $5 million salary after a shocking stint in the Premier League where he managed to score only one goal in 42 matches as a forward for A.F.C. Sunderland. For comparison, four defenders have scored double that amount in the opening nine games of the league this season.

When the national team’s captain Michael Bradley couldn’t manage to get into the starting lineup for a declining A.S. Roma team in Italy, he got a $6.5 million reward to return to the MLS.

You’re probably wondering how players like Bradley and Altidore have a combined 250 appearances for the national team — it’s because the American player, which Arena so firmly believes in, actually sucks.

And his future doesn’t get much better either: The U.S. men’s soccer teams failed to qualify for the Summer Olympic Games in 2012 and 2016. The Olympic soccer tournament only features under-23 teams and is regarded as a bellwether for how teams will perform in the future — so maybe the U.S. failing to qualify for that competition was the perfect forewarning for this year’s failure.

Likewise, if American coaches were decent, foreigners wouldn’t consist of more than a third of all MLS coaches.

U.S. Soccer apparently doesn’t believe in the American coach as well. There are five candidates being considered to fill Arena’s shoes, according to CBS Sports — Only one of them, Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter, is American.

What’s even more embarrassing? Former France coach Laurent Blanc and former England coach Sam Allardyce are being considered over Americans.

The former was caught on tape talking about implementing a racial quota on the French team to limit the number of Black and Arab players on the team. The latter was entangled in a corruption scandal when he used his position as England coach to give businessmen advice on how to go around British rules on player transfers.

Maybe Arena is delusional and actually believes that U.S. Soccer is on the right path despite his front row seat to its catastrophic downfall. Personally, I think he’s been hitting the pipe, which would explain his coaching and his prognostication.

If he is, I hope he doesn’t mind passing it to the rest of the country. After watching some of the team’s recent performances, we could all use it.

 


 

Fadel Allassan Contributing Writer

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