Gu­lati re­sists calls for sweep­ing change

Sport360 - - Football World Cup 2018 Qualifiers - By Rob Wool­lard @rob­wol­lard_afp edi­to­rial@sport360.com

De­ba­cle, dis­as­ter, catas­tro­phe, calamity. As the post-mortems be­gan on the USA’s World Cup elim­i­na­tion, no hy­per­bolic stone was left un­turned.

An er­ratic qual­i­fy­ing cam­paign that be­gan with losses to Mex­ico and Costa Rica, fol­lowed by the sack­ing of coach Jur­gen Klins­mann, ended in ab­ject fail­ure against Trinidad and Tobago in the Ato Boldon Sta­dium.

A 2-1 loss against a side with noth­ing to play for, and when a sim­ple draw would have se­cured qual­i­fi­ca­tion, means US soc­cer fans will be left on the out­side look­ing in when next year’s World Cup party kicks off for the first time since 1986.

The im­pact of their elim­i­na­tion will be felt far and wide. The World Cup is con­sid­ered one of the key en­gines of the sport in the United States, at­tract­ing new gen­er­a­tions of fans at each tour­na­ment.

The exit is likely to raise se­ri­ous ques­tions about US Soc­cer Fed­er­a­tion chief Su­nil Gu­lati who cut a de­jected fig­ure at full-time.

Gu­lati, who is stand­ing for re-elec­tion next year and could face a po­ten­tial chal­lenge, ar­gued against a knee-jerk re­sponse to the exit, while ac­knowl­edg­ing his own “ex­treme dis­ap­point­ment.”

“We cer­tainly ex­pected to qual­ify through­out the process... so it’s a huge dis­ap­point­ment for ev­ery­body: The play­ers, the staff, the coaches, for the fed­er­a­tion. It’s not good enough, ob­vi­ously,” he said.

Gu­lati, spear­head­ing the USA’s joint bid’ with Canada and Mex­ico for the 2026 World Cup, was de­fi­ant about the need for sweep­ing changes. “You don’t make whole­sale changes based on the ball be­ing two inches wide or in,” he added.

Arena, ap­pointed by Gu­lati for a sec­ond stint in charge of the US team fol­low­ing the dis­missal of Klins­mann, was sim­i­larly ro­bust.

“There’s noth­ing wrong with what we’re do­ing,” Arena said. “I think if our league con­tin­ues to grow it ben­e­fits the national team pro­gramme. We have some good play­ers com­ing up. Noth­ing has to change. To make any kind of crazy changes I think would be fool­ish.

“We’re build­ing a con­sis­tent pro­fes­sional league. We have play­ers play­ing abroad of a cer­tain qual­ity. There’s enough there. There’s no ex­cuses for us to not qual­ify.”

Trinidad took all three points via an Omar Gon­za­lez own goal and a su­perb strike from Alvin Jones.

Chris­tian Pulisic pulled a goal back in the sec­ond half, but the in­creas­ingly des­per­ate Amer­i­cans were un­able to find an­other.

The play­ers were left to digest a crush­ing loss with veter­ans such as Clint Dempsey (34), Tim Howard (38) and Michael Bradley (30) de­parted Trinidad know­ing that in all prob­a­bil­ity they had played in their last World Cup.

“You can go around in cir­cles a mil­lion times over again but the re­al­ity is it was all there for us, and we have no­body to blame but our­selves,” Bradley said. “It’s not the eas­i­est time to make big­ger-pic­ture anal­y­sis.”

Fall guys: USA’s Matt Bes­lar and Jorge Vil­lafana.

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