Sifting Through Bad Takes to Explain Why U.S. Soccer Failed

Photo Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot to parse after Tuesday night’s embarrassment but I’ll start with this: That team was not prepared to play and looked like it didn’t even give a shit.

I’ve never seen a more appalling display of effort in 27 years of watching United States soccer, and that was a constant theme throughout this debacle of a qualifying cycle.

That’s on head coach Bruce Arena, who was equally casual in his post game press conference, claiming that no drastic changes needed to be made after a country of 300,000,000 people was just eliminated from the World Cup by an island nation of 1.3 million.

He should be canned for that offensive nonchalance alone.

The next thing to do is fire U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati and move on from the aging veterans who no longer have a future on the national team. It’s a sad way to see the likes of Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard to go out, but the silver lining is that this pathetic charade is over and we can now focus on fixing the problems.

Let’s do this:

I’m gonna cobble together all of the 24-hour hot takes that I read from soccer experts and national idiots alike, and we’ll just go down the list determining whether each one contains any sort of validity.


1. MLS is to blame for the decline of the USMNT

Yes and no.

The first thing to understand is that MLS growth has improved our regional opponents.

Honduras, Panama, and Trinidad & Tobago all have a significant number of guys playing club soccer in the United States. Two goals in the Panama/Costa Rica game were scored by MLS players, and the third goal was scored by a former MLS player. Honduras got two goals from Houston Dynamo attackers and one of the guys who scored for fucking Mexico will play for an MLS expansion team next season.

On the flip side, six of the 11 U.S. starters are current MLS players. Three of those guys, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard and Paul Arriola, played in foreign leagues before returning to the United States. You can say that Bradley and Howard got worse when they came home, but they also got older. Tim Howard played more than 10 years in England, so don’t tell me he sucked last night because he now plays in MLS.

Eight of 11 U.S. starters last night had some sort of experience playing outside of America, so I don’t buy the “blame MLS” excuse.

If anything, we’re in a weird catch 22/transitional period.

  1. If our best players go to Europe, MLS doesn’t improve
  2. If our best players stay in MLS, they aren’t competing against the world’s best

Translation: What’s best for MLS isn’t necessarily best for U.S. Soccer, and vice versa.

We’re right in the middle of that right now, where we want MLS to take the next step but we also want our best young talent to thrive in the world’s best leagues (Christian Pulisic). It’s gonna be a bit rocky until we find a balance there.


2. This failure will affect the popularity of soccer


Last night’s travesty is an indictment on U.S. Soccer, not the popularity of the sport in this country.

See, most of the people who watch the World Cup every four years go back to watching football, basketball, baseball, and hockey after the tournament is over.

The main reason they watch is because:

  1. there’s an element of nationalism involved (rah rah go USA!)
  2. there’s nothing else to watch in July

Some casuals might become interested enough to consume more soccer after the WC, but the sport continues to grow in non-World Cup years because of the strength of now-available foreign broadcasts and the growth of MLS.

Atlanta United, an expansion team, set a single-game attendance record this year when they shoved 70,000 people into their stadium (they share it with the Falcons). Your hometown Philadelphia Union were really bad (again), but continued to draw 12,000 to 15,000 fans to CHESTER every weekend.

The popularity of the English Premier League and Champions League has skyrocketed on the strength of NBC and FOX broadcasts. You’ll find a lot of people who watch EPL with their kids on Saturday morning, then flip on college football or Phillies baseball later in the day.

If anything, U.S. soccer is on a trajectory that is incongruous with the overall growth of the sport here. We have millions of people in this country who love soccer, but couldn’t give a shit about the USMNT or MLS, which is an ongoing struggle.

Plus, the World Cup isn’t even the “Super Bowl” of soccer. The apex of competitive global soccer is the annual Champion’s League final.


3. This generation of players just isn’t that good


We failed to qualify for two Olympic games and a couple of other tournaments as well, which had a cascade effect on the performance in other competitions.

There are some success stories, I think. Jorge Villafana might be the left back of the future. DeAndre Yedlin is still young and getting Premier League playing time. I’d cut ties with most of the rest of the team and start handing out caps to guys like Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Weston McKennie (Schalke), and Tyler Adams (NY Red Bulls).

Let’s get the kids out there and get ahead of the curve right now. I don’t need to see more of Chris Wondolowski, Darlington Nagbe, Michael Bradley, Matt Besler, Graham Zusi, and blah blah blah etc.


4. Independent youth clubs are ruining our development


We’re the only country in the world where soccer is a sport for suburban white kids with money.

You pay your club team, something with a stupid name like “Doylestown United Rage 1997,” a bunch of cash just so you can schlep your kids to Tuckahoe Turf Farm every other weekend for day-long tournaments in 95 degree heat.

Meantime, the urban minority soccer loving kids are just sort of falling through the cracks.

True story: the Philadelphia Union’s first academy success was an African immigrant who came to America at age 14. He joined a local club that scrimmaged a Union youth team, and that’s how he was identified and brought into the academy setup.

So it’s important to get into urban communities and identify where these kids are playing.

I used to referee at a place called “Sofive” in Elkins Park, where 95% of the players were “foreigners.” I reffed Brazilians, Mexicans, Uzbeks, Jamaicans, and Africans (not African-Americans, Africans who just got here). I guarantee that no one is scouting those kids or even paying attention. The next U.S. Soccer star is probably playing there, not at Boyertown Junior High School East.

Now, some clubs obviously want to hang on to their best players, and they aren’t crazy about becoming a “feeder” for the local MLS team, but that’s the model we’re heading towards. Individual MLS teams have their own academies. There used to be one national academy in Florida, and that’s where guys like Landon Donovan came from. In 2017, each MLS team is trying to produce its own regional domestic talent.

That relationship between longstanding clubs and these nascent MLS academies needs to be streamlined. A lot of youth soccer forces are working against each other, which is why we aren’t developing these kids from start to finish.

Here’s a valid take from an English guy who now covers MLS:

Ding ding ding! We have a winner!

But wait, here’s another take from a different ex-pat Englishman who now does play-by-play for the Colorado Rapids:

Holy shit these guys are on fire!

Maybe the Brits do know the sport better than we do…

Anyway, it also doesn’t help that some parents see sports as a gateway to a free college ride, but that’s an intrinsically American problem. Foreign kids are identified at ages five and six and stay in the same academy for their entire youth.

Here, we send kids to college from ages 18 to 22, then they don’t play pro ball until age 23 (Keegan Rosenberry). Imagine if Lionel Messi didn’t turn pro until age 23. We need our kids on MLS fields at ages 17, 18, and 19, and not wasting prime years playing meaningless ball in Chapel Hill or College Park.

And more money needs to be allocated to U.S. subsidized youth development, which needs to be restructured.


5. “If our best athletes played soccer”

Of course it would be amazing if Odell Beckham, Jr. had stuck with soccer, and he was paired up top with Lebron James in a 4-4-2.

But we’re one of the biggest countries on the planet Earth. We have enough talent here to be the best at every sport. This line of thinking is valid, but it’s not the reason for our failures. Iceland just qualified for the World Cup and their entire country has fewer people than Bucks County.


6. Our coaches aren’t good enough

This is true at every level. Same with refs.

I’ve been around some youth coaches who yell at 12-year-old children with non-instructions:

run harder!

get the ball!

kick it!

And the parents are just as bad, because they don’t understand the rules of the game and yell equally absurd things at their own children.

It happens at the top, too. The Union hired a very young Jim Curtin who has had to learn on the job during three full losing seasons. He was also given zero resources to work with, which is another story entirely.

We definitely need to emphasize coaching education and raise the standards here.


7. A lack of promotion and relegation hurts domestic competition

No, it doesn’t.

The standard of MLS play continues to grow without pro/rel. There are problem owners, like our very own Jay Sugarman, who hurt individual clubs, but there are organic ways to remove those obstacles without installing a crippling pro/rel system.

We’re just not ready for it yet, nor do we need it to be successful. U.S. Soccer didn’t fail because fourth-division Stockade FC was disenfranchised.


8. We deserve this because we voted for Donald Trump


It’s true that some Mexican players said they were extra motivated to beat the United States because of comments our president made about their country.

But here’s the thing; if you need extra motivation to play against your arch rival in World Cup qualifying, then you’re not worthy of wearing an El Tri shirt in the first place.



We didn’t qualify for the World Cup because we’re in a weird transitional phase affecting both U.S. Soccer and MLS. A generational gap is partly due to a broken development system that needs to be reworked. We have three-hundred million people in this country and should not be losing to tiny island nations like Trinidad and Tobago. But we also have to admit that our regional opponents are improving.

That’s about it. It’s not the end of the world. It’s actually a good wake up call, because sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before realizing how bad it is. We’ll figure it out.

If you didn’t read any of the article, but want a summary instead, click on this:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email

44 Responses

  1. No US world Cup Soccer you say?

    Perfect time to get into Esports! StarCraft 2 > Dota 2 > CSGO > League > SSMB Melee > Hearthstone

      1. Odell Beckham Jr. would be a chalk on the boots winger with Lebron playing the classic #9 in a 4-3-3, you utter pleb.

  2. ……..that the best athletes in this country play other sports.

    In other countries the best athletes play soccer. In America the soccer players are usually kids who have parents that obsess over them being safe – so they raise wimpy kids. Or the kids suck at other sports so they go to soccer.

    1. could be, that in a country of 300 million people, that we can find enough elite athletes to be good at pretty much every sport

      1. My suspicion has always been that the only ones who “care” are certain media personalities who work for outlets that would love to have greater access to another major sport. Y’know, places like ESPN that live off the table scraps the NFL leaves them.

  3. Kevin, the only reason enough American interest in soccer justified the mls was the 1992 World Cup. The one cause for the slight success the mls had was the USAs success in the past 2 world cups. Do you really think the mls can hang on for the next 5 years?

    1. No way in hell. The mls will consolidate its teams. The “big” clubs ; ie: Seattle, Atlanta, Philadelphia…. will remain. But I see the number of teams dropping to about half what it is now. The US not playing in the World Cup will be devastating to American soccer.

    2. There was no 1992 World Cup.

      The 1994 World Cup was held in the U.S. under an agreement that we establish our own domestic soccer league to continue to grow the sport. That’s how MLS was created.

      And yes, MLS salaries and attendance and TV numbers have increased pretty much every year since 1998.

    1. No doubt. The past 2 world cups were fucking great. But only because we were in it.

  4. This blows – last world cup was fun. Playing germany, escaping to the knockout round, and playing a pretty good game against Belgium. Was great fun to grab beers and watch.

    Im genuinely pissed. Gotta wait 4 damn years now, and it shouldnt be like this. Wholesale changes need to happen. We CAN NOT be losing these games and not even have a shot in the tourney

    1. Go stick your dick in a meat grinder.
      You’re see just as much action and have just as much fun as in a soccer game.
      soccer sucks!

  5. Good read.
    They had a handful of players in there that, couldnt care less about making the world cup ie bradley, altidore, dempsey, howard. All have played in 2- 3 world cups…they lacked motivation, pride, hunger, passion. ANd it showed on the field. You would have been better off playing a bunch of college all-americans against T & T. At least they would have given everything they had, instead of what we saw. Just a sad day in US Soccer.

  6. Maybe they can take some liberties with those sluts from North Philly.

  7. the best players on my HS soccer team were Haitians that were at one of our practices playing soccer with a basketball and making us look foolish dribbling. Ronaldo is from a tiny island off of Portugal, you hit the nail on the head with where they need to look for players. paying money doesnt make you better at a sport, you need to find the naturals and THEN develop/educate them staring young. dont take a bunch of mediocre kids with overbearing parents that dont even like the sport by the time they’ve come to age or dont have the drive.

    1. That won’t happen- entitled white wannabes won’t be able to compete with those kids. Then what sport would “Janie” or Johnny” play?
      I never appreciated the game in my youth. Became youth coach by default, and found why it’s called “The Beautiful Game”.
      Had my fill of elitist parents and especially coaches at club and high school level.
      I’ll still watch, if nothing else is on…

  8. Agree with most of what you say but a couple of points:

    1. “I used to referee at a place called “Sofive” in Elkins Park”. Used to? That place opened three months ago, that’s a quick exit.

    2. Just because 8 of the starting 11 last night had international experience doesn’t mean they were meaningful experience. I think Pulisic, Cameron, Yedlin, and Wood are better players today than if they decided to play MLS. Dempsey was an ok international player but he’s SO OLD now. And that’s about it. Altidore flaming out internationally and then coming back to Toronto didn’t necessarily make him a returning conqueror . You think he’d be better player if he were still going up against EPL teams every week or in his current situation playing against the Colorado Rapids and Minnesota United every week. I think it’s safe to say he’d be seeing better competition in the EPL. But when you’re a striker who scores 2 goals in 70 Premiere League games and are named one of the 100 worst strikers in Premiere League history, you put your tail between you legs and find a league more suitable to your skill level.

    3. Pay to play may have been perfected by the US, but it’s not limited to the US. You see it now with Barcelona setting up their US headquarters in AZ. Take a look at what they charge for your kid to get looked at by their “evaluators”. Whether they call it “tuition” or “technical fee”, you’re paying. Not just them either, any foreign club that has an affiliation with a youth club over here are probably the most expensive clubs you can send your kid to.

    4. Next international game the only 2 returning players who should put on that uniform are Pulisic and Yedlin. I’ve seen enough of Dempsey, Bradley, Howard, Guzan etc. They aren’t getting it done. Time to find out if the younger guys can.

    1. No! It’s really exciting! You just don’t understand it! It’s like hockey on grass, but with less scoring and more diving!

  9. What was the score? I waded through a quarter of your manifesto and didn’t see it. Don’t bury the lead, Tolstoy.

  10. I’ve usually been one to say MLS/US Pro leagues don’t need pro/rel, but I’m changing my tune on that. During Taylor Twellman’s epic rant after the game, he brought up what pro/rel does in other leagues. You have to bring it, every single day in training and game to hold your place. It makes you better or you don’t play. I feel like some of the US starts, at least, don’t have that same pressure playing here in MLS. The foreign born players do because either it’s play here in the US or play in their domestic league.

    I also agree with coaching needs. As a youth coach, I actually try to not talk while the ball is rolling. I have other coaches, both on my team and in my club, that do joystick coaching. The kids never get to think for themselves or be creative. However, the resources from US Soccer for drills, a library of sessions, is extremely wanting. I go and pay $25, take a 2 hour course (Jersey has a higher standard due to a state law) and I get to be my daughter’s travel coach from now until she’s no longer considered a youth. There’s no requirement for me to obtain the next higher license or go beyond. Also, those next higher licenses costs money, about as much as a travel league registration for my daughter. The ones even higher then that are running in the $1,000s so not only is it pay to play, it can even be pay to coach. Not a great setup when the vast majority of kids in this country are playing soccer in volunteer run and coached organizations.

  11. If you attend an MLS game you will over hear a lot of conversations in languages other than English. I would suggest that is a large part of the attendance figures increase.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *