Summing up US soccer failure: ‘Heartbreak’

Ryan Spitza

Editor’s note: Ryan Spitza is a part-time sports writer at The Mining Journal, graduate of Marquette Senior High School and student at Northern Michigan University.

——————

U.S. soccer, you failed. You failed yourselves, your fans and an entire nation.

I’m absolutely shocked by this. Bruce Arena, you had one job. Get the U.S. men’s national team to the World Cup. And you failed at it.

I’ve always been a casual but passionate fan of U.S. soccer, meaning I keep up with the team and all of its moves, and cheered them on during tournaments such as the Gold Cup, Copa America, World Cup qualifying, and oh yeah, the World Cup.

I would even watch the friendlies when there was not much else on television. Those USA-Mexico games are always entertaining.

Fast forward to last week and the most critical game, the last chance to advance to the World Cup. The U.S. is playing Trinidad and Tobago, the last-place team in the CONCACAF standings.

This should be an easy win, right? Win and the U.S. is through. The match wasn’t on any basic-cable channel so I couldn’t watch. So when I saw U.S. soccer post a photo of the final score on Facebook, 2-1 with the caption “Heartbreak,” I was shocked. Everyone was.

The U.S. hasn’t missed a World Cup in my lifetime. It hasn’t missed since 1986, 10 years before I was born. So this is new to me at least.

This is sad because of all the great moments the U.S. men’s national team has had. All the good times I had watching all of those games.

I remember Landon Donovan’s miracle goal versus Algeria in the 2010 World Cup.

During the 2014 World Cup, my friends and I had a watch party for every match. I remember the match versus Ghana and John Brooks heading it into the goal in the 85th minute to give the U.S. the late lead and eventually the victory.

I remember leaping off of my friend’s couch and running around the room in absolute joy and celebration.

I remember other fans and media saying this team would be ready to make a run in 2018 and well, here we are. Sitting at home watching the rest of the world.

We won’t get that joy and glory of uniting and cheering for “One Nation One Team” like we did in 2014 and previous World Cups. We’ll be sitting at home watching the rest of the world doing the same in Russia.

The U.S. hired Jurgen Klinsmann in 2011 and he led the U.S. team through the 2014 World Cup and into the first half of 2018 World Cup qualifying. Klinsmann was fired in 2016 after the U.S. lost the first two matches of the Hexagonal qualifiers to Mexico and Jamaica.

This brought Arena back, who had coached the team from 1998-2006.

Arena wasn’t expected to stay after the 2018 run, since he was more of a short-term solution to help the U.S. dig out of the qualifying hole Klinsmann put them in.

I don’t even blame Klinsmann, though. He had something going there for awhile. Escaping the “Group of Death” in 2014 and winning friendlies against teams like Italy and Mexico in the ever-so-hostile Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

So can we blame Arena? The U.S. has a lot of older players on the roster. Clint Dempsey is 34, Tim Howard 38 and Michael Bradley 30. Even though Jozy Altidore is only 27, he’s still been playing at the professional level for a long time.

I remember Klinsmann’s youth movement and trying to recruit young international-playing Americans such as Julian Green.

So my question is, why aren’t we using that youth? Bruce Arena, why are we sticking our oldest players out there on the pitch during the most critical matches a team can play? Because their names have value? Give me young legs over old names any day. Give me players that want to be there and win rather than collecting a paycheck.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure all of the players on the team want to win if they’re playing for this country. But in this situation, I believe you need the youngest and fastest players this country can find.

People often ask why is it so difficult to find, in a country of 330 million people, 11 athletic guys to play international soccer? Are all of the United States’ premier athletes hogged up by football, basketball, baseball, even hockey? If Tom Brady, LeBron James, Mike Trout or Patrick Kane stepped onto the soccer pitch, would it be a powerhouse squad?

I often think that people get let go for a reason for the first time. Why did Bruce Arena get picked to coach the U.S. to a World Cup if his contract wasn’t renewed after his first shot at it?

He failed once again.

It’s not all on Arena. An old team won’t win games either.

But Arena, as coach, should know that too. Five years is a long time to wait for another chance at the World Cup. Who do we cheer for now? I think I’ll be rooting for Iceland. Their population is roughly 330,000, not that much larger than the population of the Upper Peninsula.

Bruce Arena, you had one job. You failed. I hope this one stings for the team like it does for us fans, and I hope the U.S. men’s national team comes back better than ever because of it.

Bruce Arena, you had one job.

Email Ryan Spitza at sports@miningjournal.net.