For the first time since 1986, the U.S. men’s national soccer team failed to qualify for the FIFA World Cup. After a shocking loss to Trinidad and Tobago, a team who was ranked 99th in the world and also finished at the bottom of the Hexagonal CONCACAF qualifying table, everyone from fans to former players spoke out for changes in the culture of soccer in the U.S., as well as changes within the United States Soccer Federation (USSF). Tempers have cooled since the defeat last October but several changes will happen between now and the 2022 World Cup which will hopefully improve qualifying chances.
One change has already come in the form of a new USSF president. Following the U.S.’s failure to qualify, president Sunil Gulati decided that he would not run for a fourth term in February 2018. Gulati told ESPN last December that, “I think the best thing for me personally, and for the federation, is to see someone new in the job.”
Gulati faced criticism early on in the qualifying campaign for 2018 as the U.S. fell into poor form. This resulted in Gulati firing head coach Jurgen Klinsmann in 2016 after hand-picking him for the role in 2011. Growing complaints from the youth sector of the national team and worries about how in-touch he was with the organization likely played a role in Gulati’s resignation as well.
Following the announcement, several potential candidates came forward including former USSF board member and then-current vice president Carlos Cordeiro, as well as U.S. national team veterans Hope Solo and Eric Wynalda. All three went to the final round of voting but it was Cordeiro who won with 68.6 percent of the votes over four candidates.
Per ESPN, Cordeiro’s goals for U.S. soccer consist of creating a technical department which would manage on-field matters, helping youth and adult-level organizations make progress while also becoming affordable, and making sure leadership is engaged – something that Sunil Gulati’s camp was accused of lacking.
Beyond changes that USSF wants to make are changes that the organization cannot control. An unfortunate side effect of missing the World Cup means that fans may have seen the last of several players on the global stage. Among these players are legends like Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey.
While both of the aforementioned players are currently healthy and still playing at decent levels in the MLS, that will likely change before the 2022 World Cup. Tim Howard, the veteran goalkeeper, is 39 this year. Though he currently captains the Colorado Rapids, it is unlikely to see him get called up to the national team at age 43 (if he’s still playing).
The same goes for the U.S.’s second-choice keeper Brad Guzan. Guzan currently plays in the MLS for Atlanta United after moving from Middlesbrough in July 2017. He is 33 and will be 37 by the time 2022 comes around, perhaps too late for him to earn a spot on the national team’s roster.
Another major figure to likely to retire is Clint Dempsey, aged 35. The Seattle Sounder forward has had an impressive career at the national level, earning 141 caps and scoring 57 times – an all-time scoring record that is tied with Landon Donovan. The former Tottenham Spur has already evolved into a super-sub role for the U.S., and though still playing well, it’s hard to see him grab a spot as he moves closer to age 40.
The upside to losing Dempsey and other legends is that younger, brighter players will be able to grab the vacant spotlights and collectively create a new national team in the next four years. Rising talents like Weston McKennie and Christian Pulisic show that the USMNT will be in no shortage of quality players in the years to come.
A bright future is just what the national team can use at the moment, and players like McKennie could be a strong base to build a team around. Though he wasn’t chosen for the 2018 qualifiers, McKennie has played well for German club Schakle 04. So far, the 19-year-old has played a deeper midfield role but is a well-rounded player who is calm on the ball and calculated with his distribution. He will be 24 when the next World Cup comes around and should be in his prime.
Another 19-year-old who will be in his prime in 2022 is Christian Pulisic. The Borussia Dortmund player has already shone for the national team, bagging nine goals and providing six assists in 20 appearances. He plays in an attacking-midfielder role but can play on both wings as well. Pulisic’s speed and control on the ball is impressive, proven by his ability to beat players one-on-one. And per Squaka.com, he boasts a 79 percent passing accuracy rate as well. Pulisic has been proving his potential since the early days of his career too. In May 2016 he became the youngest player in history to score for the USMNT at 17, and later became the youngest to win Male Player of the Year for the national team at age 19.
2022 is down the road a bit, but seeing the potential of Pulisic, McKennie, and many others players should make most fans feel a little comfortable with the future retirements. And with a new USSF president now in charge, hopefully the U.S. men’s national team has seen its last failure to qualify.