PITCH­ING A FIX

U.S. soc­cer needs to get younger, find coach who bleeds red, white and blue

New York Post - - SPORTS - Tony Me­ola

ITony Me­ola of Kearny, N.J., who played in goal for the United States Men’s National Team from 1988-2006, gives Post read­ers his thoughts about Tues­day night’s elim­i­na­tion from the World Cup and where the team goes from here. Me­ola hosts “Counter At­tack” week­days (5-7 p.m. ET) on Sir­iusXM FC, chan­nel 85. As told to Kyle Sch­nitzer.

be­came a World Cup fan in 1982, watch­ing Italy win it. All of the same things I felt Tues­day night I felt in 1986. That year, when I saw Costa Rica beat us one-nil on some chan­nel prob­a­bly 500 peo­ple in the coun­try were watch­ing, I said to my father, “How can we not qual­ify for a World Cup? We’re the United States!” I say it again. “How can we not qual­ify for a World Cup?” It can’t hap­pen again in our life­times, and it shouldn’t if we do the right things.

This didn’t all start Tues­day night. This has been build­ing and build­ing with this team. It just hasn’t been a group that’s per­formed con­sis­tently.

I was writ­ing some words down for our ra­dio show and the ones that came to mind were: gut­ted, con­fused, an­gry, pissed, shocked, em­bar­rassed by the way this whole thing turned out. Hav­ing said that, I still have some com­pas­sion be­cause I see the play­ers get­ting ques­tioned for their ef­fort. I know there wasn’t a guy out there who didn’t give an ef­fort. I highly doubt there was a guy on that field who didn’t want to go to the World Cup. Now we have to ask ques­tions why it hap­pened.

There are a lot of guys who are on the north side of 30 years old. Had it qual­i­fied, I think this team would have looked dras­ti­cally dif­fer­ent than it looked right now. I think coach Bruce Arena re­al­ized as qual­i­fy­ing went on that the team was just get­ting old. He’s spoken openly about how in 2006, in his f irst stint as U.S. coach, he should have changed about a third of the team and brought some younger legs in. That’s not going to sit well with peo­ple but that’s the re­al­ity. Father Time is un­de­feated.

The 11 play­ers, the sub­sti­tutes, the coach­ing staff, they didn’t get it done. Bot­tom line. It’s no se­cret to them. It’s clear. It’s ob­vi­ous. But I sep­a­rate that from where we are short-term in soc­cer, and where we are long-term, which is the con­cern­ing part for me about what di­rec­tion we are going.

Short-term, it’s clear. I love Bruce. He’s like a father to me. I would ex­pect Bruce to step down in the very near fu­ture.

Who do you bring in next? There will be for­eign names in there. I’m not op­posed to for­eign names, but our next coach has to be some­one who has bled in the national team jer­sey, day in and day out, through­out their ca­reer. Some­one who’s worn the jer­sey, who’s played in the World Cup, who will feel ev­ery mo­ment of a loss and will con­tin­u­ously bleed for the jer­sey. That should be the cri­te­ria for the next coach.

What we’re going to hear is there is going to be a world­wide search. We did this al­ready. Now it has to be the younger gen­er­a­tion, guys who are coach­ing in the sys­tem and will feel the same way as a coach as they did as a player.

One guy who comes to mind is Tab Ramos. He’s in the sys­tem. He’s been through five Un­der-20 cy­cles, so that’s 10 years with the

Un­der-20s, twice as an as­sis­tant and three times as a head coach. He knows the Amer­i­can youth player bet­ter than any­body does at this mo­ment. Peter Ver­mes is a guy whose name is going to come up; it came up this time when Arena re­placed Jur­gen Klins­mann last Novem­ber, as well.

There are oth­ers, but they have to un­der­stand Amer­i­can play­ers, un­der­stand their sys­tem. They can’t be guys who, if it doesn’t work out here, they’re going to get a job in Europe or with a South Amer­i­can national team a month later. This has to be life or death for them. That’s the di­rec­tion I’d like to see the national team go.

Long-term, this has been one of the prob­lems with U.S. soc­cer: “Who are we?”

When I came up through the sys­tem in the late ’80s and early ’90s, ev­ery­one wanted to be like Tahuichi, the Bo­li­vian youth club, and we were going to de­velop play­ers like they did. Then Por­tu­gal won the two youth World Cups with Car­los Queiroz, who came here and was part of de­vel­op­ing a plan, Pro­ject 2010, which was sup­posed to en­sure the U.S. would win a World Cup by 2010. So we switched from the Bo­li­vian way of do­ing things to how Por­tu­gal was do­ing it. We went from a South Amer­ica philosophy to a Euro­pean one.

In 2011, Klins­mann came in and we were going to use the Ger­man philosophy. And there were other philoso­phies in the mid­dle of that. Brazil won the World Cup and all of sud­den we were going to see how Brazil was de­vel­op­ing.

I’ve said for years: We were a kick away in 2002 from hav­ing a chance to be in the semi­fi­nal of a World Cup. We played Ger- many in the quar­ter­fi­nal. We had them pinned up against the wall for the en­tire game. If there had been VAR (video as­sis­tant ref­eree) in that day, we would have had a shot to go to the semi­fi­nal.

My point is, why can’t we be a bet­ter ver­sion of our­selves ev­ery sin­gle time around? We’re ath­letic. We’re get­ting bet­ter tech­ni­cally. We’ve al­ways been pretty in­tel­li­gent play­ers. Why do we have to be ev­ery­one else in the world, and more im­por­tantly, why do we keep on chang­ing? Why do we keep on bringing in a for­eign coach? One of my fears with bringing in a for­eign coach is once again we’re going to change philoso­phies on who we are. We’ve done this for the last 20-25 years. We need to be a bet­ter ver­sion of our­selves. We didn’t see that Tues­day night.

With this be­ing said, I be­lieve in the fu­ture of our game … the fu­ture is now!

TIME TO RE­VIEW: After Paul Ar­riola and the U.S. were tripped up by Trinidad & Tobago, the national team will cer tainly be look­ing to re­place Bruce Arena (right), but has build­ing blocks in place in stal­war t Michael Bradley and young star Chris­tian Pulisic.Pulisic

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