COLUMN: Three ways to fix the U.S. men’s national soccer team
After the United States men’s national soccer team’s 4-0 walkover against Panama, American soccer fans started searching for flights to Moscow for the 2018 World Cup.
Three days later, they had to cancel their plans.
The USMNT lost 2-1 to group-worst Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday to give up its spot in 2018 World Cup qualifying.
Panama, who declared a public holiday after reaching the country’s first World Cup, replaced the U.S. in the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) World Cup qualification group after coming back to beat Costa Rica, 2-1.
Ever since U.S. men’s national team captain Clint Dempsey scored in the first minute against Ghana and Tim Howard put up a record-breaking 16 saves in a 2-1 loss to Belgium in the 2014 World Cup, American soccer fans have waited four years for the 2018 World Cup.
But, for the first time in my lifetime, the Americans didn’t qualify for the World Cup.
And it is all their fault.
Even members of the team admit this is the worst failure in American soccer history.
Here are three ways to fix the U.S. men’s national soccer team:
Invest in Pulisic
Christian Pulisic played a vital role in 12 of the Americans’ 17 goals in the final round of World Cup qualifying. There is no question Pulisic is the Americans’ most talented player, even if he is only 19.
After almost singlehandedly dismembering Panama in Orlando on Oct. 6, it was clear Pulisic is the most creative attacking midfielder the U.S. has seen in a long time.
He split the defense in half with his speed to score the first goal in the eighth minute, then embarrassed a Panamanian defender with a beautiful step over move and cross to find Jozy Altidore for the second goal in a 4-0 rout.
Former American head coach Bruce Arena allowed Pulisic to play in his most natural position to maximize talents against Panama, and it showed.
Against Trinidad and Tobago, Pulisic seemed to be playing a wide role and couldn’t use his creative talents playing on the shoulder of strikers Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood. This was likely a foolish decision made by Arena before the game.
If the USMNT realizes Pulisic’s talent and potential to lead a team in goals and assists, and play him in an attacking midfield role, they will no longer struggle to find scoring opportunities.
Don’t rely on former stars
Howard and Michael Bradley can no longer carry the USMNT.
Against Trinidad and Tobago, the 38-year-old goalkeeper’s positioning was questionable each time Trinidad scored. The Howard period is over for the USMNT.
The U.S. is not slim on goalkeeper options. D.C. United’s goalkeeper Bill Hamid, 26, has been outstanding in Major League Soccer in 2017 recording 98 saves and 6 shutouts in 24 games.
Lighting up the internet with acrobatic saves every other match day, Hamid has shown the experience to suit up for the national team.
Bradley, 30, earned his 100th cap for the USMNT in 2015. He is used as an energetic, holding midfielder who covers a lot of ground each game.
As one of two players to play every minute of the previous two World Cups, the holding midfielder position is critical to any team’s success.
The only problem is, he’s getting old. With age, he’s becoming slower and making unadvised decisions from being gassed after the first half.
FC Dallas’ Kellyn Acosta, 22, emerged as a potential replacement for Bradley in recent years. Acosta, a fullback/defensive midfielder, was a highly-touted academy player who is rumored for a possible transfer to a European club next season.
Find a center-back pairing
The USMNT’s best center-back John Brooks was left out of the final World Cup qualifying roster after suffering a thigh injury in August in his VfL Wolfsburg debut that will keep him out of action for another month.
The USMNT used seven different combinations of center-back pairings in the final round of qualifying, and it showed. Against Trinidad, an awful clearance by Omar Gonzalez resulted in an own goal against the Americans — the first goal of the game.
If the national team can use the upcoming years to develop a center-back partner for Brooks, they wouldn't have to worry about inconsistency and inexperience along the back line.
Since Arena led this team to the biggest disappointment in American soccer history, and resigned three days later, it is just a matter of time until his successor is named to prepare for 2022.
Writer's Note: These are just three of the ways U.S. soccer can be improved. I agree, there are multiple problems that were not mentioned.