Bruce Arena: “You can say I could’ve played this guy, that guy, and then you’d come back the next day if we had lost and said, ‘Why did you make those changes and play those guys?’ ” (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
In wake of the U.S.’s elimination from World Cup qualifying, Michael Lewis will be writing a series of columns about the state of soccer in this country.
By Michael Lewis
It’s funny how someone can change a strategy he has espoused over the years and then defend the new tactic after absolute failure.
Throughout his career as U.S. national coach, Bruce Arena had a history of changing lineups between games that have been bunched close together.
He followed that suit it when he directed the national side in CONCACAF Gold Cup and in the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup in Mexico with some positive results.
So, for the vital World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago Tuesday night, what does he do? He uses the same Starting XI he deployed in the 4-0 triumph over Panama in Orlando, Fla. four days prior Friday night.
It didn’t help the Americans against the Soca Warriors as they started slow, gave up two first-half goals and went down to a confounding 2-1 defeat in Couva, Trinidad, considered by many the nadir of U.S. Soccer history if not the bottom.
After the match, Arena said Trinidad used the same lineup as it did in its qualifying loss to Mexico four days prior.
In an interview with Steven Goff of the Washington Post, Arena defended his strategy and actions.
“You can lay all the [stuff] you want on the thing,” he told the Post. “You can say I could’ve played this guy, that guy, and then you’d come back the next day if we had lost and said, ‘Why did you make those changes and play those guys?’
“The job we have doesn’t allow us to be the Monday morning quarterback. [Trinidad and Tobago] played almost the same team that played against Mexico on Friday, so there’s no difference. So that’s all a bunch of baloney. It has nothing to do with formations or not making changes. We didn’t get the job done. If we played the first half like we played the second half, there is no question we win that game or at least get a point. There’s no finger-pointing or excuses; it’s all on us.”
Arena said did not think fatigue over the two matches turned out to be a major factor. “You have a little bit of a heavy field and it’s hot,” he was quoted by the newspaper. “Yeah, there’s fatigue. Did you notice their players going down with cramps? We weren’t cramping.”
Well, what do you expect?
Arena was defending his actions.
Sorry, I don’t buy that.
Yes, the U.S. head coach is correct. It is all on us, as in the team and Arena did take his share of the blame. But it was his Starting XI decision that began the road to defeat in Couva.
Arena isn’t one to admit his mistakes immediately, at least not in public.
Regardless what he said, keeping the same lineup just might been the biggest coaching blunder of his career.
And spinning it several days after the fact won’t fix it at all.
Here is the link to the Washington Post story: