Bruce Arena said that the USMNT failing to qualify for the World Cup in 2018 is just part of the sport. While losing games might be, such horrific failure is not.
No one wants to be reminded of the U.S. Men’s National Team failure to qualify for the World Cup in 2017. It was a sad day for U.S. soccer that many will want to forget, banning it to the history books never to be seen again.
But this week, New England Revolution head coach and former USMNT head coach Bruce Arena brought the calamity back into the public light when discussing the causes for the failure of the team.
First, it is useful, if a little painful, to remember the extent of this failure. Many could not believe when the USMNT lost to Trinidad and Tobago to confirm their absence from the premier international competition in the sport. And yet, that is precisely what happened.
The entire qualifying cycle was a whirlwind. There were numerous coaching changes and a lack of vision. Arena took over from Jurgen Klinsmann halfway through qualifying. A change like that can truly be challenging for a team, and in the end, it was. While Klinsmann hardly covered himself in glory, Arena did not help proceedings, despite being given a tough hand.
Despite his own failings, though, Arena believes that the United States media and public didn’t tell the right story in the aftermath. Speaking with Matt Pentz of The Athletic, Arena said:
"“I think the American public, and the media, did a really poor job, even to this day, of articulating what happened, and the real world of those things. It’s all part of the sport. You don’t win all the time. If I’m not mistaken, in the last World Cup, Italy wasn’t in it, and Holland wasn’t in it. And we’re not in it, so wake up and deal with it. It’s all part of it.”"
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In fairness to Arena, he is not attempting to right his own wrongs, although his lack of self-reflection on the period is telling. But while he says that losing is a part of the sport, highlighting the fellow shock failures of Holland and Italy, there is no excuse for the USMNT not qualifying for the World Cup.
Now, expecting absolute domination would be a little ambitious — and foolish. There will, of course, be some bumps along the way. But the expectation has been that the United States will qualify and be competitive in the group stage of every single World Cup, and given the relative weakness of the CONCACAF region beyond Mexico, that is not an unreasonable expectation.
When you have players like Christian Pulisic, John Brooks, Zach Steffen, DeAndre Yedlin, Tim Weah, Tyler Adams, and Weston McKennie, you cannot be missing out on the World Cup. It is absolutely unacceptable.
Yes, teams lose. And yes, the USMNT will lose games. But that does not excuse failing to qualify for the World Cup, no matter what Arena says.