There is silence in the room.
Sure, the television is still emitting the sound of Phil Schoen saying, for a third time, that the United States are out, as though a different inflection will somehow make the news easier to take.
If a football team falls in the Caribbean, and nobody is listening, does it make a sound?
In a moment, it does make the sound of Phil desperately trying to convince us that because the Honduras-Mexico match has not yet ended, there is still hope.
“Fuck this!” Jhonny shouts, slapping the armrests as he leaps from his seat. “Fuck this!”
He does not see what we see: the final whistle in San Pedro Sula, along with a lower third graphic: USA ELIMINATED FROM 2018 FIFA WORLD CUP.
“Just as well,” he would say later. “If I had seen it, it would shortly have a hole in it the shape of my shoe.”
Jhonny is of Argentine descent. His ancestral homeland is in the tournament, having scraped in when Lionel Messi scored a hat trick earlier in the day.
He says, “That doesn’t give me any... you know...” and searches for the word.
“Comfort?” I ask him.
“Yeah. I mean, sure, my parents came from there. But I’ve never been there. I grew up speaking English. I grew up watching Donovan, and McBride, and Friedel. Those are my guys. I’ve got a US jersey, not an Argentina jersey.”
“You going to go for them?” I ask.
He shrugs, looking away for a moment. “Yeah,” he finally says. “I guess. Who else?”
Back in the conference room, Edvard has called in. “You know how we feel, dude,” Jasmine says.
The Netherlands were also eliminated today, because they beat Sweden by five fewer goals than they needed to.
Edvard adds, “But at least this has happened to us recently. You guys probably can’t remember the last time the US didn’t make it.”
Gaby asks him, “When was the last time the Netherlands didn’t make it?”
“2002,” he answers. “We had such a great squad. Kluivert. Davids. The de Boer brothers. van der Sar. We had just been in the semifinals in 1998, and at Euro 2000. Then in the qualifiers, we were in a group with Portugal and Ireland. They were both incredible that time. We played well, but we lost two matches. That’s all it takes. Then at the 2004 Euros, we got to the semifinals again. That’s football.”
“So wait,” Jasmine says. “Four major tournaments. Three semifinal appearances –”
“And one nonappearance,” Edvard sighs.
“Well, at least Jhonny has Argentina,” Gaby replies.
“Fuck you, Jhonny!” Edvard shouts.
From the telephone, Debbie’s voice adds, “England made it too.”
“Fuck you, Debbie!”
“Everyone and their mother is going to weigh in on why and how we didn’t make it,” Jasmine says in her office.
“What do you think?” I ask her.
She does not hesitate. “The guys were timid out there,” she replies. “Klinsmann’s been gone almost a year, but they’re still playing like he could bench them any time. That’s how they played against Costa Rica. That’s how they played today. And that’s exactly what pisses me off about this. Used to be, the US played with a confidence. With a belief. When their backs were to the wall, the US performed. Landon. Abby. Brandi. All the way back to Paul. That’s gone now. They’re afraid now.”
I point out, “But if Klinsmann’s not there any more, why are they still playing like that?”
“Who knows. But for whatever reason, when Arena took over, nothing really changed. He didn’t really bring in any new players in the qualifiers. I mean, he won the Gold Cup with an experimental squad. Didn’t some of those guys earn the right to get into the September or October qualifiers? Like Miazga. Or Roldan. But in the qualifiers, Arena’s been playing basically the same guys as Klinsmann.”
While Jasmine has been speaking, Gaby has joined us. Jasmine suddenly asks her, “What do you think of all this?”
“Well, of course, I’m not as much into football as you guys,” she starts. “But I still like to watch us at the World Cup. I still like to see what we can do against the rest of the world.”
“Yes, and the answer now is that we won’t be doing shit against the rest of the world,” Jasmine interjects.
“Yeah, but like you just said, we won the Gold Cup,” Gaby says. “And we did pretty well at the tournament last summer, right?”
Jasmine answers, “The Copa América? Yeah. Fourth place.”
Gaby continues, “And you were just talking about all those young guys. So it’s not all, you know, doom and gloom.”
A few minutes later, I find a text from Amber Lynn:
ugh what is this i can’t even
I reply, triggering a brief conversation:
This is so bad. This is so fucking bad.
i wanna vomit, punch klinsmann in the face, cry, and get my coaching license
All at once?
vomit on klinsmann while being handed coaching license
way ahead of you
Gaby says the team’s still in a good place. Good young players.
yeah but need real coach
Arena’s not a real coach?
need full timer. someone who can take over youth development. find new talent
Isn’t that what they wanted with Klinsmann?
yeah. he did okay at first. got to rd of 16 in 2014. but wore out welcome
also can’t think tactically. hands off approach with players. expected them to figure it out
german players train like that their entire lives, until it’s second nature. klinsmann assumed americans like that too
American players need more tactical leadership?
obvs. look at today. tri had 10 guys behind ball constantly. usa has skill to break that down. but couldn’t
So all we need is a coach who can find young players, change the development system, relate to American players, and have tactical genius.
that’s all there is to it haha
I’m not much in a mood to laugh right now.
didn’t actually laugh
just typed it
So now everyone else has gone home.
Bruce Arena, of course, would resign. A great many voices are also calling for the resignation of US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati. He will probably not do that, seeing as how his term is up in February. There is, however, suddenly a lineup of candidates who will potentially or actually run against him.
My voice is one of the ones calling for Gulati to step down. He is a professor of economics at Columbia University, and this was an economic failure for US Soccer, which receives a large share of its income every four years from the Men’s World Cup.
We handed him all of our chips, and he placed the whole stack on Jürgen Klinsmann. It paid off in 2014, so Gulati let it ride, despite the mounting evidence showing that Klinsmann had lost the locker room, and the lessons of history showing that sticking with the same coach for a second Men’s World Cup cycle is a losing proposition – including under Bruce Arena himself. The 2015 Men’s Gold Cup and the 2015 CONCACAF Cup were – or should have been – alarm bells to Gulati. Instead, he kept our rapidly dwindling stack of chips on Klinsmann, up until the losses to Mexico and Costa Rica at the start of the final round of qualifying. Then, Gulati picked up the single chip we had left and placed it on Bruce Arena. Now, we have finally busted out.
One of the problems with the current US men’s squad is the age distribution. The leading stars are Christian Pulisic [aged 19], Tim Howard [aged 38], Michael Bradley [aged 30], and Clint Dempsey [aged 34]. Of the twenty five players called up for this week’s matches, only seven were born in the 1990s. Where are the players in the twenties, the players who are in the prime of their careers?
We should improve our youth development system, starting by putting a stop to the pay to play system. Youth clubs that require payment are complicating matters and pricing out talented youth from less privileged backgrounds. Give all such clubs the opportunity to affiliate with a professional club’s academy or with US Soccer itself.
Our nation is loaded with talented footballers. We need only find them and turn them into stars.
As Amber Lynn said, that’s all there is to it.
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