The USMNT Post Mortem

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Oh, hello madam and sir. I hope you are well. As a USMNT fan, I have seen better days. In fact, for the past year or so, I feel as though I have been shouting in a black hole. I have pitched articles but heard silence. Why, I even got paid a kill fee to shut up about the USMNT’s problems. Thus, I have joked on Twitter, but kept my claws in my pocket. My sin? Casting doubt on the Arena-as-savior narrative, only to be ignored. Disregarded. Mocked.

And now, my friends, I am sad the USMNT did not qualify, but my sharpened knives must come out. Here is some of the Arena stories you and I have read this past year. Let’s all chuckle (then cry).

Please note that many of these writers are my scribe buddies on Twitter. I respect them as smart and kind people. I just thought, and think, they disliked Jurgen so much that they were too quick to grasp at the Yahoo Arena! narrative. For example, here is a fair, two-sided look at Arena’s work with the US – both negatives and positives.

Here, though, is an example of one-sided Arena fanboydom. Just look at the lede: Bruce Arena has TRANSFORMED” the USMNT. Comically, things get even worse, in the text of a later article, right after some poor results.

Bruce’s knowledge that our team has problems is “reason for optimism.” Does that make any sense? It did not at the time of publication months ago. It still does not. Just as bad, according to CBS, Arena “worked wonders.”

Our pals at SB Nation tipped Arena for success because he knew how to “manage” the unique world of CONCACAF travel. But what good is travel management when you can’t tie Costa Rica at home? Also, in a presser before the home game vs. Panama, he said he had only prepared his team for that first game and not the T & T game. At first, I thought he was joking (his sarcasm is pretty blatant most of the time). After the loss, though, maybe he was being honest?

Actually, even in the win vs. Panama, the US midfield looked like a mess. We had zero intensity off the ball to try and win it back. The strikers finished their chances, but we looked sloppy on the ball and lethargic off it. I understand the limits of the US roster – our best winger, Pulisic, needs to be closer to the box because he’s also our best goalscorer – but the 4-1-2-3 that puts too much pressure on Bradley and places Nagbe in a less than ideal situation just looked too disjointed.

Okay, okay, tactics talk aside, I have not been alone. At least, not lately. At the other end of the Arena coverage spectrum, here is a relatively recent “smoke before fire” look at the US roster and curious decisions made by Arena. Matt Doyle and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything, but his first point – that Bruce was very conservative at times in roster selection – was a valid observation. I do think that Matt got a little too caught up the Arena optimism very early on when, frankly, the USMNT was really just picking up points in the less difficult games of qualifying.

Of course, you have one counterfactual claim: with Jurgen, the USMNT would not have qualified. Yet we don’t know. This counterfactual has the same weight as the hypothetical that Pro/Rel will solve all of soccer’s problems and make everybody happy and billionaires and worldbeaters. We don’t know. What we do know – Arena was not the answer. The US is not going to Russia. This is a fact.

For the record, I blame Sunil. The US should not have given Jurgen an extension. After Brazil 2014, we should have said “adios.” Ditto for Bradley and Arena and their second tenures. We need to get in the habit of hiring a new coach after the World Cup, each and every time, not letting the most manager stick around.

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