This is ostensibly a blog about politics and Trump specifically. The latter blowhard in that sentence said some stupid things about restricting freedom of the press after they reported that he proposed some even dumber things about our policy surrounding nuclear weapons, but as important as that is, I want to take a break from all that and talk about the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Even as I approach 30 years old, married, with a kid, getting a degree, writing a blog and doing a bunch of other things that are (theoretically) better uses of my time than watching sports, reading about sports and talking about sports, I tend to come back to sports as a stress reliever. I love all sports and my soccer heart stands with the U.S. national team.
Which is why it is heartbreaking, infuriating and insane that the people running U.S. Soccer institutions can’t get this right when the answers to solving the problem are completely obvious and were made more so to me after “that game” that happened.
The U.S. Men’s National Team will miss its first World Cup in 32 years after an embarrassing, disgraceful performance, losing to the absolute worst team in CONCACAF qualifying, with their worst showing of the past three years. It was the nadir of a dreadful qualifying cycle and will deprive players, coaches and fans of the incredible experience of uniting to cheer the team on during the quadrennial celebration of football, despite how awful and unethical it may be when you lift the lid and see how the sausage is made.
This loss is outrageous and a symptom of the systemic failure to grasp how the game should be played and managed from top to bottom. It is the crown jewel of the culture of intellectual laziness and satisfaction with mediocrity that embodies U.S. Soccer from top to bottom. This is best summed up with the mind-numbing statement from the USMNT coach, and neighborhood-soccer dad on steroids Bruce Arena, when he gave the statement that “he takes full responsibility for the loss and for missing the World Cup” but “nothing needs to change.”
Those two statements are fundamentally incompatible with each other. The United States Soccer Federation needs to be gutted. Arena, USSF President Sunil Gulati (who somehow survived the downfall of his good friend Chuck Blazer), please do us all a favor: get out and don’t come back. And take every single player who showed up with a lazy, cocky, complacent attitude last night with you.
If you’re one of the few Americans today concerned about their professional fate, don’t worry, they’ll be just fine. They’ll probably run right back to Major League Soccer, the utility company of world club competition. It’s staggering to see this league have the success it does while it operates with FEMA-level concerns for the quality of it’s product (“WHATEVER, YOU’LL WATCH IT ANYWAY”) and it’s garbage approach to talent growth.
There’s a reason MLS is a retirement home for best European players of eight years ago: It’s where they go to collect the biggest check when no UEFA Champions League bound Euro club will pay them at the elite level anymore. If they continue to operate as a single-entity league, they’ll never grow at an appropriate pace. By refusing to let big sharks move in and growing in baby steps, they’ve deprived themselves of putting more butts in seats by legitimately bidding for the services of the Ronaldo’s, Messi’s and Neymar’s in their prime. MLS prefers to operate this stupid way when it comes to player acquisition, while simultaneously making even dumber rules up to tip the scales for larger market teams.
But that is not their biggest sin. No, their greatest folly, and the one that prevents youth development from happening, isn’t even icing out big investors, it’s icing out the competition. You see, this is a league so committed to keeping control of the soccer situation here that it will refuse billions of dollars to prevent a promotion and relegation system from happening. Wouldn’t it be cool if your local soccer club could (in theory) rise all the way to the top of the world and win the biggest competitions? That can happen in England! Do you think that fact encourages excellent competition within that country? Do you think that fact opens up the game for individuals who might not have financial access to it before, but since teams want to develop talent, they would look everywhere they could and pay to develop that talent? I do!
But MLS doesn’t care about competition, it wants your money to provide coaching to your kids. Which leads me to wonder about the end goals and intentions of those driving soccer business decisions in the United States. I’m not the only one who has questions about this issue.
I don’t know what mechanisms exist to try and change the culture of soccer in the United States at the institutional level. But I look forward to finding out and leaning on those levers until we no longer think that “nothing needs to change” after getting dressed down like clowns wearing red, white and blue.