Whoever takes over the U.S. men’s coaching reins could decide to go with a young national team, like the one that recently completed three international friendlies. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
The made quite a team, Steven Reed, Decio De Maria and Carlos Cordeiro did.
Those three gentlemen and the United Bid Committee — plus former committee chairman Sunil Gulati and executive director John Kristick and a few more people who worked behind the scenes– were able to maneuver Canada, Mexico and United States atop the World Cup table for the 2026 competition.
Whether they were going on the offensive or playing some defense when a certain U.S. president reportedly made a disparaging remark about an African country, the men who brought the World Cup to the North America in eight years hence must be commended:
Bravo! Job well done.
FIFA made the correct choice in bringing the World Cup back to North America for the first time since 1994. Morocco’s bid should not be forgotten. The next time Africa’s turn to host the quadrennial competition comes around, that country should throw its hat into the ring.
There is little doubt Canada, Mexico and the U.S. have all the ingredients and tools necessary for another successful World Cup. We have the experience and background from USA ’94. North America has stadiums need to be upgraded, not built. It has a transportation system that works pretty efficiently and plenty of hotel rooms and ethnicities that just about any of the 48 teams that qualify for the 2026 World Cup would feel right at home.
Now, we must worry about another team, one that has woefully underachieved when it counted the most.
Yeah, you know what team that is — the good old, Red, White and Blue.
While the United States might be considered the Brazil of staging and marketing World Cups with its superior ability to promote games and events and just about print money — footballing countries are not measured by how many tickets you can sell or how many merchandising deals can be made. No sir, they are judged by results on the field.
You need a team, a damn good one, to play and put on a good show in those same stadiums where the tickets have been sold.
After reaching seven consecutive World Cups since 1990, the Americans crashed and burned mightily during its latest World Cup qualifying run. The damage included two World Cup coaches (now former ones) who came up woefully short, two home qualifying losses in the same competition and to top it off, an embarrassing and humiliating 2-1 loss to what was essentially a Trinidad & Tobago B team from a country that already had been eliminated from the competition. All this in a confederation that will never be mistaken for UEFA or South America.
The team needs to be rebuilt in terms of youth, talent and spirit, especially if any of the players — for example, Christian Pulisic — are to be included in the run for Qatar 2022 and a quality team for 2026. You don’t want to be one of those rare countries that fail to reach the World Cup the cycle before it is supposed to host one. OK, co-host one.
In 1989, the USA came tantalizingly close to joining that club but became the 24th and final team to book a spot to Italia ’90 on a dramatic 1-0 win at T&T, thanks to a goal by Paul Caligiuri, and some help from his friends.
Imagine what would have been said if the Americans failed to reach the 1990 World Cup, with a golden ticket to host the 1994 competition already firmly ensconced in their back pockets.
“They’re not good enough to qualify for four decades but get a free ride to one.”
“They can’t even get out of arguably the easiest confederation. Just how good can they be?
“Let’s face it, they are charity cases.”
And so on.
That’s why it will be whoever takes over the coaching reins — whether it is Juan Carlos Osorio, Carlos Queiroz, Marcelo Bielsa, Gregg Berhalter, Peter Vermes, Jesse Marsch or someone else who out in the international coaching community who has impeccable credentials — it will be his charge to turn things around.
Missing out on Russia 2018 hurt in so many ways, including not being able to give someone like Pulisic and some of the young players an opportunity to play on the greatest stage and under pressure for your country. Whatever continuity that had been established has been broken.
Dave Sarachan did the best he could as caretaker manager, using younger players and giving them an opportunity to get their international boots wet. Granted the opposition might not always have been top class; Bolivia, me thinks, sent its D team over to play the Americans May 28.
So, when Earnie Stewart takes over the reins as U.S. men’s national team general manager in August, he and the U.S. Soccer Federation colleagues must do an exhaustive search to bring in the right man to do the job.
That must be someone with the proper background and experience, someone who can organize and create a team, someone who knows talent, someone with a high soccer IQ and someone who can get his message across to a younger generation (some USMNT players of the last generation performed like reaching the World Cup was a right and not privilege, others did not show enough heart, especially when it counted).
The new coach must find that right combination of players — talent, pace, spirit (an American trait that never says die), a hunger to excel and ready to make sacrifices.
The gut feeling here is that there are players out that fit the bill. But are there enough to put together a competitive team that will try to get out of a relatively easy confederation that already includes Mexico and Costa Rica as front runners to reach Qatar?
That is the $64 million-dollar question.
Whoever takes over will have his work cut out and then some. We cannot afford another screw-up, especially since the rest of the world will be watching a little more intently.
We like to say how we have become a real soccer football country in so many ways.
No doubt we have grown mightily since 1990, and as we discovered with that big punch to the gut last Oct. 10, we still have a long way to go.
We certainly are a more educated soccer society; the public awareness and passion for the sport has grown by leaps and bounds the past three decades.
What could have been used to pull the wool over the eyes of the supporters back then can’t be duplicated today, especially with social media.
We know when something stinks.
So, when Mr. New National Team coach takes over, he will find himself under more scrutiny than ever before to mold a winning team. Failure at this level cannot be tolerated, especially if the other Team USA that works off the field to bring the planet fabulous World Cups is world class.
It is time for the USMNT to step up.