October 12 – The United States’ failure to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia marks a “sad and dark moment” for the game in the country says former star defender Alexi Lalas.
Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat by Trinidad and Tobago means the US will miss the finals for the first time since 1986.
“It is not a good look or feeling. It will have repercussions,” Lalas told the BBC. “They let themselves down, they let us down and they will have to think about that for a very long time.”
“The United States soccer community will be shaken to its foundations – this will have repercussions on the field and off the field.”
The US needed only a point in their final qualifier to book their place at an eighth successive World Cup. But Trinidad and Tobago – who had won only one of their previous nine games – scuppered their hopes combined with Panama and Honduras both winning.
Despite taking responsibility for the setback, US head coach Bruce Arena said there would be no drastic changes – though he may not be around long enough himself.
“To make any kind of crazy changes I think would be foolish. We’re building a good system in our professional league. We have players playing abroad of some quality,” he said.
As the humiliation sunk in, there were calls for US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati to be jettisoned even though he is running the three-nation bid to host the 2026 World Cup.
Gulati has been federation president since 2006 but new elections are scheduled in February. Gulati will be standing for a fourth term and although the US has introduced a three-term limit for its presidency, it is unclear if that will apply to Gulati (like all of football’s recent reforms, it seems it probably doesn’t have to apply to all-powerful incumbents or good old boys).
But the groundswell of blame in the US is focussing in on the federation management. “Dramatic changes must be made at many levels, but it all starts at the top,” said a statement on the American Outlaws website, one of the largest US team supporter groups.
“In no uncertain terms, the President of the United States Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, must go. Despite past successes he has presided over an unmitigated disaster and the federation needs fresh leadership and ideas from top to bottom.”
Gulati told The New York Times after the Trinidad game that his re-election “is not a decision for me to think about tonight.”
“We will look at everything, obviously, all of our programmes, both the national team and all the development stuff. But we’ve got some pieces in place that we think are very good and are coming along,” he said.
But Rocco Commisso, the New York Cosmos chairman with an anti-trust lawsuit against US Soccer, joined the chorus of disapproval.
“The blame must be placed squarely at the feet of US Soccer’s management, led by Sunil Gulati,” Commisso said in a statement on the Cosmos website. “The first step in ensuring that American soccer consistently performs at a level that spares all of us the kind of negative emotions generated by our national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup is for Mr. Gulati to resign.
“The US (men’s team) has never come close to achieving international prominence as it should, given our country’s size, resources and huge pool of athletic talent.”
Warner parties on
While the US was taking a hard and critical look at itself, former CONCACAF president Jack Warner, wanted in the US on corruption charges but so far resisting extradition, described the Trinidad win the happiest day of his life on local radio.
“I have not been in better spirits. This is the happiest day of my life,” Warner said. “It [the win] couldn’t have given me greater joy.”
“They have used their government to help to dismember FIFA in a way that is unimaginable. And last night on the field of play Trinidad and Tobago reduced them to their knees,” he said.
His joy will likely be shortlived if the US get their hands on him.
Fox still tuned in to Russia 2018
With questions starting to be asked as to how far the country’s non-attendance in Russia will impact on World Cup commercial commitments, Fox Sports – an important FIFA partner through to 2022 – issued a statement saying: “Last night’s World Cup qualifying results do not change FOX Sports’ passion for the world’s biggest sporting event. While the U.S. was eliminated, the biggest stars in the world from Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo stamped their tickets to Russia on the same day, and will battle teams ranging from Mexico to England that have massive fan bases in America. The World Cup is the greatest sporting event on earth that changes the world for one month every four years, and FOX Sports remains steadfast in our commitment of bringing the games to America for the first time in 2018 and will continue to support the US Soccer Federation as they look ahead to the 2022 World Cup.”
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