What is US Soccer Even Doing?
Despite big talk of restructuring after an embarrassing summer where USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup, It's business as usual for US Soccer.
The US Men's National Team didn't make the World Cup this past summer—you might have heard. The fateful 2-1 loss in Port of Spain in October 2017, where the USMNT fell to a nation 300 times smaller than itself, felt like watching the crossing the Delaware take a cannon to the hull. The sight was jarring enough to call for a deep overhaul. We were going to get meaningful change, right?
Bruce Arena, the manager at the helm, understandably stepped down from his role (though he should have been fired), having overseen this tremendous failure. And it took some trying, but US Soccer's standing monarch Sunil Gulati finally doffed his crown the following December, which seemed like the first step. The US then missed out on a huge opportunity when a young Mexican-American player named Jonathan Gonzalez, who had played for the USMNT's youth squad and showed promise in Liga MX's Monterrey, chose Mexico over the US in his one-time switch. That one was at least understandable—Mexico were World Cup-bound and the US wasn't.
An election then ushered in new control of US Soccer. And while it seemed the old regime still had a tight grip on the apparatus, putting Gulati's second hand man Carlos Cordeiro into power, Cordeiro promised to instate a US Soccer General Manager to oversee all of that soccer stuff, while he held onto control of the business end of things, hopefully creating a septum between the often muddied role of overseeing finances and game-related decisions. Shortly before the World Cup, USMNT legend Earnie Stewart, who had experience in both MLS and Dutch Eredivisie front offices, was named into the GM role and was in charge of picking the team's coach. Surely, this would be a pure synthesis between the US and Europe.
A dazzling World Cup played on without the US team, and it should have stoked a fire to want to be in that big dance. No coach was named during the Cup—we were just biding time to have our pick of the coaching litter after the inevitable giants bowed out of the World Cup, right? Another month went by, and another, and another. Yet still no manager was named. Columbus Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter has long been considered the heir apparent—a pretty mediocre choice, but the foundering US must not have had many suitors—and yet still nothing.
This is the duality of being a US Soccer fan—or a fan of any shitty team, for that matter—you hold on to optimism until your fingers cramp, and then all you see is blood.
That's when a report using unnamed sources came out yesterday from SI's Grant Wahl, saying that former Spanish national team coach, and now-former Real Madrid coach Julen Lopetegui approached US Soccer through an intermediary and told them he was interested in the job. But, allegedly, US Soccer turned him down, saying they were too deep within the process. An ESPN report came out shortly after, saying Lopetegui's agent denied that his client approached USMNT.
Whether Lopetegui is simply trying to save face or not is not even really the issue here, because the job shouldn't have been open at this point anyway. The real problem is that after slogging through all of US Soccer's indecision and hand-wringing, this felt like the straw that cracked US Soccer's back.
Lopetegui is no magic bullet, however. The manager has less than three years of first team club managerial experience, and managed to lose a jaw-dropping number of games with defending Champions League winners Real Madrid. But the thought of the USMNT denying a top-tier coach—one who speaks Spanish and could have helped bring in the oft-ignored Spanish-speaking eligible players—in favor of an MLS coach who's best quality is getting decent results with a bunch of lesser players? This is not the overhaul you're looking for after a demoralizing loss that now happened over a year ago (!!!). This is business-as-usual between glad-handing US Soccer old timers.
We've watched a fresh batch of young players get ripped apart for the past four post-World Cup friendlies, and seemingly wander the pitch with the attention span of an under-8's team. All under the helm of Bruce Arena's second in command, Dave Sarachan. And this is no batch of low-level players. Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic are playing regularly in the Champions League, and Tim Weah looks poised to stand in for a recently injured Neymar and Kylian Mbappe for France giants PSG.
There is an absurd amount of potential here, and not just down the line, but now. If they had a new coach for those past games, it would incentivized the team to play hard, instead of throwing spitballs at this substitute teacher. Not to mention the excitement of trying to build a program and a style with someone who is afforded a long-term vision.
Instead, US Soccer seems to have stuck with Berhalter from the beginning. This talk of "too deep within the process" does not feel based in reality, with reports zeroing in on several worthy candidates who allegedly weren't even interviewed. Not Mexico's former coach Juan Carlos Osorio, Atlanta United's Tata Martino reportedly rejected an offer, and now they've (allegedly) outright rejected an elite Spanish coach? Meanwhile, Berhalter seems to have been holding out for the past few months on account of the fact that he was overseeing his MLS team bow out of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.
Now, still without a coach—Yesterday's loss to Italy was Sarachan's last with USMNT—the team's first meaningful tournament is nearly six months away, with precious few FIFA international breaks to play in between.
Being coach of a national team should be a point of pride, and managers should drop everything to join. Knowing this team and its dreary past, it's understandable why they might not be taken seriously. But at the very least, a good first step would be US Soccer taking itself seriously.
This article originally appeared on VICE Sports US.