When it comes to international soccer’s most celebrated tournament, the United States’ men’s team has posted some disappointing showings in the past, but at least they made it to the dance. Now, though, the US men’s team is out … the first time they will miss the World Cup in 30 years.
Did anyone really expect the US men to make a deep run in the tournament? Not really. The women’s team? Sure, but not the guys. Still, they expected good competition and a decent showing from the States, even though the country isn’t much for soccer on the whole. But to miss the tournament completely? Unacceptable. It wasn’t long – three days – after a losing effort to Trinidad and Tobago — that head coach Bruce Arena resigned.
It’s an inauspicious end to what was supposed to be a coaching stint that signaled an American resurgence in the international soccer scene. Arena is not only a member of the US National Soccer Hall of Fame, he has coached the team to what some are calling the nation’s “greatest success in the modern era. That was in the salad days between 1998 and 2006 before Arena was fired by USSF President Sunil Gulati. Jurgen Klinsmann coached the US team to an 0-2 start in the final round of qualifying. Arena was brought back to put some fire under the team. He did … at least at first. The US won their first 14 games coached by Arena in his second tenure, before losing a 2-0 decision to Costa Rica.
The US team came out of that loss fired up, dropping a 4-0 whipping on Panama that put them back in charge of their own destiny. The team only needed to beat – or even tie – the 99th ranked team in the world, Trinidad and Tobago. They lost, finishing fifth out of six in their grouping. Panama, the same team the US team had blanked, actually moved up to third, securing a spot.
American soccer fans were in utter disbelief. Arena called the bewildering defeat “a major setback,” and he admitted, “Questions rightly should be asked…”
Now, though, those questions will not be asked of him. So, who does the US team bring in to fill his shoes long-term? This question is more important than filling one of the most important holes on the team. It goes to the more foundational bid to make soccer a more celebrated and popular sport in the United States. While closely followed by legions of fans nearly everywhere, “football” isn’t even “football” in the United States.
For “soccer” to catch on, US fans need to see their team work some magic on the pitch against top competition … Looks like they will be waiting at least four more years.
Ronn Torossian is the Founder and CEO of the New York based public relations firm 5WPR: one of the 20 largest PR Firms in the United States.