Arena exits bloody US battleground, but Gulati believes he still has a role to play

By Andrew Warshaw

October 16 – The United States are looking for a national coach once again after Bruce Arena as expected stepped down following the humiliation of the country failing to qualify for the World Cup finals for the first time since 1986.

“We didn’t get the job done, and I accept responsibility,” said 66-year-old Arena, who took charge for the second time only last November when he left LA Galaxy to take over from Jurgen Klinsmann, who was sacked – some might say prematurely –  when the US were bottom of their CONCACAF qualifying group.

Arena partially revived their fortunes but couldn’t get over the line even though only a point was needed from their final qualifying match – against Trinidad and Tobago, no less – to book their place at an eighth successive World Cup.

“This certainly is a major setback for the senior men’s national team programme and questions rightly should be asked about how we can improve,” said Arena. “No doubt this process already has started and will continue so that US Soccer can progress.”

But it appears one person who won’t be throwing in the towel is the head of the US Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati, who will reportedly make a decision about whether he will run for re-election in the coming weeks.

Gulati, who heads the bid committee for the 2026 World Cup, told a Friday conference call that he didn’t plan to resign even though he, like Arena, said he took “full responsibility” for the team’s failure.

“I am not resigning because there are a lot of things to do. I am in the middle of a World Cup bid,” Gulati was quoted as saying. “It’s not the right day for me to talk about my personal future plans in terms of the federation presidency.”

But he then apparently stated that he should be re-elected because of the role he has played “and the role I think I can play going forward if I choose to run. Plus we have the World Cup bid. The sport is in very different place than it was 10 years or 30 years ago when I first got involved.”

Gulati said an interim coach would be appointed for upcoming friendlies in November and promised every aspect of the US programme would be examined “from our player development programmes, to our coaching, to our facilities, to our refereeing, the pay-to-play model, the role of education and universities, all of those things. And where we need to make major changes, we’ll do that, and where we need to make incremental changes, we’ll do that.”

Despite such bullish remarks, many will take the view that the US, which competes in the weakest of all FIFA’s regional qualifying competitions apart from Oceania, is simply a victim of its own culture, with soccer – as it is known there – still lagging behind other sports in terms of being ingrained in the national psyche. At least when it comes to the men’s game.

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