A View from Afar / Commentary

The source of USMNT malaise is obvious

Photo: Eli Pearlman-Storch

I don’t remember the last time I watched a full U.S. national team match. Maybe it was the World Cup. Maybe later.

Apparently, I’m not the only one checking out. Attendance for U.S. men’s national team games has reportedly dropped 23 percent in the last year. No USMNT friendly this year has drawn more than 10,000 fans.

There’s a simple answer as to why: The USMNT is no longer fun to watch.

Think about it.

When is the last time you watched a USMNT match without, at some point, getting angry about the team’s tactical decisions or lineup choices? Is it fun being constantly annoyed with your national team when all you want to do is cheer them?

Maybe the 3-5-2 against Mexico infuriated you.

Maybe you can’t fathom why center back Matt Besler played left back against Costa Rica.

Maybe you’re thinking it might be good for Jermaine Jones to regain a tad bit of fitness in lesser games before he starts against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier.

Maybe the fact that Michael Orozco keeps getting selected makes you scratch your head.

We all know there’s a problem. Now that the USMNT has lost its first two Hex matches for the first time ever, it’s impossible to avoid.

I used to watch all their matches. Didn’t you? As an American soccer fan, how could you not? It was your country, it was soccer, and it was a team with a flair for the dramatic: Landon Donovan’s game-winning goal against Algeria in 2010, the stunner from John Brooks in the 2014 World Cup, and the classic 2010 comeback against Slovenia in the World Cup. This was a team that felt like the best of America: Gritty, hard-nosed, athletic as hell and never giving up, even if they weren’t the technical savants produced elsewhere.

That faded sometime after the 2014 World Cup.

With Donovan inexplicably cut from the team before the Brazil tourney, it felt at times like the heart had been ripped out of the club. Then we all watched a team playing not to lose (particularly against Belgium) instead of playing to win.

With the manager’s maddening technical choices and indefensible roster decisions, the team became frustrating to watch. Sure, they still won most of the time when they should, but then they would drop a game to some ridiculous minnow like Guatemala or get demolished by a tiny central American country on the road (4-0 to Costa Rica?), and you’d be like, “What is going on?”

And really, what was going on?

Where was the team that showed it could hang with the world’s best at the 2009 Confederations Cup?

Where was the team from a country breaking television viewership records for World Cups?

And why were so many of their players playing out of position? Michael Bradley as a No. 10? Matt Besler is a left back? Was that Omar Gonzalez at defensive midfield? What is this, rec league?

World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF is notoriously forgiving, but why chance it? There’s a World Cup in a year and a half, and if there was ever a World Cup that you want to ensure the U.S. does not miss, it is this next one in Russia, otherwise known as the country that cyber-attacked your country and hijacked your presidential election. The U.S. national team needs to be there, and they need to show the world what is and can be great about our country, both on and off the field.

That Jurgen Klinsmann needs to depart as U.S. national team coach is without question. It’s not even debatable anymore. If U.S. Soccer needs to eat a few million on the contract, then that’s the cost of doing business.

The only question is when and who will replace him. Hopefully we get that answer soon.

35 Comments

  1. I am all for firing JK.

    But the idea that Arena could be the one to take over is disgusting.

    • Why is Arena taking over “disgusting”? Not trying to start something, I just want understand it better.

      • Maybe his previously expressed distaste for players not born here? Not sure what James meant, but hopefully, that wouldn’t be an issue. Find the best players, period, wherever they were born (within the rules of course). I’m fine with Arena.

    • I’m sorry, but who led the US to it’s best finish ever in the World Cup since 1930?

      Bruce Arena is hands down the best coach in American history. Not even close. He’s won 5 MLS Titles, 3 Supporter’s Shields, 2 Gold Cups, 1 Concacaf Champions League Cup, 1 InterAmerican Cup, 1 Open Cup, and 5 NCAA D-1 National Championships.

      He has the tactical chops to maximize his roster’s strengths and minimize their weaknesses. He’ll bring consistency to the team and will rebuild their confidence and morale. He’ll bring an identity back to the men’s program, which is caught in the wilderness right now. A combination of technical skill, tactical acumen, athleticism, and desire.

      He’ll be named the new national team coach by December 1. Tab (or whoever else takes over after this WC cycle) will have the opportunity to learn how to run a national team program properly. It’s a win-win across the board.

      • Agreed on Arena. There was a reason that he was brought in during our last low period after the France ’98 debacle. He’s the perfect person to take over at this stage and I would really look forward to seeing what he can do with this player pool because it’s a very talented group.

      • So what I don’t get is why does everyone want to go backwards. Lets get someone other than Arena lets get something new something fresh something different. While he may have had success soccer changes it grows lets try to grow with it not go backward.

      • The only good argument I see for Arena is as a caretaker manager. He comes in and likely has the respect of the team without a lot of question. His job is essentially short term to take the team to the WC in 2018. Groom Ramos to be his successor. I have no idea if that’s the smart thing to do or not. But I tend to feel like Arena is a better bet than other names I’ve heard like Vermes or Marsch. I don’t think success at an MLS club is sufficient for USMNT.

      • Right now, the goal is to ensure qualification to the World Cup. It’s not the right time to hire someone who is untested in that area and hiring the best manager in the US right now makes the most sense.

        Not really sure how hiring Arena is a step backwards as you wrote. If anything, it would probably be a step forward from where the USMNT is right now.

        However, the suggestion box is open. Who do you think Sunil should hire for this job?

      • Hmm… Who should the USNT hire is a good point. I feel like someone different is needed, but I don’t know enough about who is available. A year or two ago I heard Roberto Martinez (who coached Everton/Wigan) was interested. I actually think he would make a great fit as I think he gets the most out of the players he has on the roster. However, I no longer really have a handle on who is available and what it would take to get them. But a coach who brings in change can change a team, if memory serves me right Iceland recently did this and while they are no world power their team has had some unexpected success due to change and new thinking.

      • Exactly. Let’s ensure qualification then we can think big picture.
        .
        I have no problem with going “backwards”. Unfortunately the culture of the USMNT is a dumpster fire right now. We need to rebuild our broken foundation and fighting spirit.
        .
        Personally, I wouldn’t be against David Wagner. He could keep the German connection alive and has been very successful in Germany and England. Doesn’t hurt to have a few USMNT caps to his credit either.

  2. el Pachyderm says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong but viewership is down for the USWNT as well and aren’t they World Champions?
    .
    Does this blow a hole in the apathy theory?

  3. i believe the minnow you are talking about is Guatemala not Ghana…

  4. “Gritty, hard-nosed, athletic as hell and never giving up, even if they weren’t the technical savants produced elsewhere.”
    .
    This is what made them fun to watch. It was a defend and counter team that was almost always in every match at the end (possible selective memory bias here). To the casual and semi-casual soccer fan, myself included, a counterattacking style is more fun to watch than a team that holds possession trying to find a hole in the defense.
    .
    I’m not sure how many of you have read this, it was written before I was a consistent PSP reader. It’s an interview with the former head of USMNT head fitness coach from the Arena/Bradly era.
    http://www.si.com/planet-futbol/2015/02/06/
    It details how the US identified fitness as a way to get an advantage, and built a culture around being the best fit team.

    • Possession based teams can be fun to watch if played correctly its just the USMNT doesn’t have enough technical savants to play this style.

    • Possession based and possessing are two distinctly different outcomes.
      .
      I’m all for counter attack– I am also all for growth technically as a nation that allows us to build play… Costa Rica is a team ranked lower on the footy food pyramid but they were able to possess the ball in a style that is not possession.
      .
      Let us not kid ourselves…fitness is a dead end.

      • Easy El Pach, while I’ll agree with most of what you said…..fitness is certainly not dead. In fact, with guys like Klopp, Tuchel, Pochettino……..fitness is making a HUGE comeback. It never left I believe….but while people were fawning over Barca ball….and that takes fitness too by the way, the pressing game was being implemented and to press….your squad has to be crazy fit!

  5. framing out your post WC 2014, i’ve still watched. a full match? like you, they’ve been hard to come by.

    i went to the 2015 Gold Cup third place disaster at PPL. low point for me.

    but i also went to the Copa match at the Linc this year. that was fun. best US atmosphere i personally experienced. sure Yedlin’s double yellow in a minute was frustrating. but Brooks was great and they won.

    did it infuriate me that Klinsmann thought we had no chance against Argentina in the Copa? yes. was he being honest? yes. did they perform well enough to keep his job? yes.

    Do i think Bradley belongs out there? No.

    i’m all for change. Mexico went through a lot recently and still looks fun to watch.

    • excellent reminder about chaos at el tri (and the scene at terminal a of phl!).
      but gulati has to earn his keep now. klinsmann can resign or be fired post-hex (let JK save face for a buyout). if he’s smart, then he talks to Deuce, Landon, Jozy, Howard, DeAndre, Bradley, Bedoya, Geoff, Fabian, Christian, Bobby & Jordan about what thus team needs at coach through 2026 – possibly the US-hosted WC.

    • The “tactics” for Argentina were pure garbage. Put in two slow forwards who can’t hold up and let Beckerman and Bradley (so basically Bradley) go up against 3 Argentine central midfielders.
      .
      Bradley gets a lot of flack, some of it deserved. But what a crap situation. You can’t possess because Beckerman is basically a 3rd CB at this point and Bradley can’t take 3 guys on himself.
      .
      Normally, you’d play over the top or try to be quick on the counter in that formation, but with two old, slow forwards you have no chance to do so. It was obvious in that game that Dempsey was told to keep a high line.
      .
      So basically we are hoping Howard can somehow keep the game scoreless for 120 min. We might as well have forfeited.

  6. concur witn the experienced hand through this WC, but he turns 68 that year. if you agree that a 72-yo Arenas may not be your 1st choice for Qatar then his assistant – or the expected successor – is even more important to me for the USMNT future.
    bradley, by comparison, is only 58. and in 2012 donovan celebrates his 40th.

  7. the usmnt has been getting its ass kicked regularly but the primary concern is attendance and even more bewildering the uswnt attendance. If the usmnt wins, the attendance is irrelevant. the issue is,who is most capable of accomplishing this as the manager, the assistants, the players. the initial objective must be to find the 23 best players, then establish the tactics and
    allignments that best allow them to be successful.” build it and they will come”.

  8. Roger Allaway says:

    The thing that most dismays me about Klinsmann is very similar to what Dan Walsh is talking about here. It’s that I have lost my extreme anxiety over the fate of the team that I have rooted harder for over the last 25-30 years than any team in any sport. You can say that my feelings about this team are my responsibility, not Klinsmann’s, but it feels like his. After starting the Hex with two losses, one of them a humiliation, I’m saying “C’est la vie.” Eight years ago, I would have been throwing myself off a cliff.

  9. This piece discusses a “fan malaise” (opposed to team.) I think another factor is that (IMO) the USMNT has been on TV more in the recent past than it used to be.

    JK’s weird roster and tactical decisions may also play a role, but isn’t there a counter-argument that people might tune in to see what he does next?

  10. Get rid of anyone over 30, including Bradley…….tournament football is a young man’s game. Keep Pulisic and start over with the kids from the 23’s, 20’s, and 17’s…….there is talent. It maybe rough for a year or two….. I think the crowds will come back if you put the youth out there. Most of your true US soccer supporters know who they are already and I bet the casual fan would love to see a squad of talented kids out there growing together over a cycle or two……..

  11. I wonder if most of the matches were on East or West coasts if you would have the same problem……they put many matches in the middle of the country to make the atmosphere more “pro- USA”. There are more die hard footy people on the coasts……..

    • Ich heisse Rolf says:

      Yes, the soccer people on the coasts more accurately fit a description of “die hards”, indeed, but a great many of them are also likely to root for the cultural homeland, not the United States …

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