Last night was awful, but if you’ve had your eyes open for the last couple of years you knew that it was coming. Whether it was failing to qualify or qualifying only to be embarrassed and bounced from the group state in Russia next year, it was coming.
I included “no hot takes” as part of the title of this post because after what he said last night and then early this morning Taylor Twellman has rightly cornered that market. Not a single thing he said is debatable by anyone who knows the game and follows the USMNT, and to his credit, nothing that Twellman said was coming out of his mouth for the first time. I’m sure there are others who have shared the same thoughts, but Twellman has been the most vocal and public “truth teller” about the USMNT since he transitioned from the field of play to the fields of match commentary and match punditry.
Having said that, here are a few of my half-formed thoughts on the subject.
First, there have to be massive and fundamental changes in the soccer “system” in the U.S. if the USMNT wants to climb back up the rankings to respectability (and beyond) any time in the near future. Those changes must be done in a top down fashion for the simple reason that the further you go down the various soccer “pyramids” in the U.S. the more scattered the (dis)organizational models become. I don’t want to be a pessimist, but there is no way that I can see to integrate the competing systems into a single system.
The professional game is a mess below MLS- does anyone know what the official “Division Two” is below MLS? Are you sure? Speaking personally, I think I know, but then an article will pop up saying U.S. Soccer has stripped one league of that status and award it to another league (or no league at all) and/or that half the clubs in one league have jumped ship to the other in order to retain their status/avoid bankruptcy.
The collegiate and scholastic systems exist in an entirely separate universe from the U.S. Soccer and professional system, with its own rules (many of which are non-FIFA approved), its own governing bodies, and its own goals (some of which, though laudable, are not helpful in this context).
And then there are “club soccer” and ODP: superfluous, avaricious, elitist, and racist. Don’t like that last descriptor? Go ahead and ask me about it. Also, and I tell you this from experience, club soccer and ODP are parasitic to their cores. They drain money from parents, talent from schools, and set up false expectations of success: “Of course Johnny is going to play in college/for the USMNT, just a few more high-priced seasons and you’ll see!”
The end result of all of this which is that the USMNT’s “feeder teams” (i.e., the “age group” national teams) are also a mess because
Second, there has to be 100% cooperation between U.S. Soccer and Major League Soccer. If this round of qualification showed us anything it is that MLS is good for CONCACAF players…from countries other than the U.S.. Every MLS club (save the Canadian ones) should have an academy program that marches in lock-step with the practices and goals of U.S. Soccer (er, well, once they get that part of the problem sorted out) and MLS should structure its season and off-season in conjunction with the needs of the USMNT and its age group divisions. There also needs to be some avenue to test the mettle of non-USMNT U.S. players in MLS, those players on the fringes who might be able to step up if given the chance. I’m thinking of “B” international matches that many countries used to stage. As an example, there a couple of players on the New England Revolution- Scott Caldwell and Andrew Farrell- who might (or might not) have what it takes to play for the national side. There must be similar players on every MLS club who could compete in friendly matches on a regular basis to better gauge their potential.
Finally, and forgive me if you’ve read this here before or I’ve talked your ear off about it in person, but U.S. Soccer needs to make a concerted effort to find quality players who are not part of any of the systems I mentioned above. As I see it now there are basically two kinds of players in the U.S. system: white, middle class, suburban players and Hispanic players from southern California. Having lived, worked, played, and coached in the Northeast all my life I have to ask why U.S. Soccer isn’t scouring places like Providence, RI, Ludlow, MA, Bridgeport, CT, etc. for the Portuguese, Brazilian, Cape Verdean, Caribbean, and West African players who abound there? At the very least, they need to start establishing contacts in these areas with an eye toward the future. It seems counterintuitive to me that U.S. Soccer is more than willing to look overseas for players who are eligible to play for the USMNT and doesn’t seem to make much of an effort to seek out those who play in our collective backyards.
Despite what’s gone on here in the last few years we remain a nation of immigrants and a melting pot and these, especially in this context, are an asset of which U.S. Soccer needs to take full advantage.