Gulati resists calls for sweeping change
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.