Why Are There No USMNT March Friendlies Scheduled?
U.S. Soccer is going through a bit of turmoil right now. Presidential elections are about a week away, the contracts of the USMNT coaching staff are about to expire and one of the country’s young rising stars switched nationalities to Mexico. Perhaps most alarming right now: There are no March friendlies currently slated on the USMNT schedule.
U.S. Soccer will elect a new president on Feb. 10. The campaign has been more highly publicized than any other U.S. Soccer election to date, but it’s anyone’s guess as to which of the eight candidates will assume the presidency. Once the president is elected, he or she can go about finding a new head coach for the U.S. men’s team, although it’s likely that won’t be decided until after the World Cup. Whoever is named coach won’t be able call on Jonathan Gonzalez, an 18-year-old stud who made his debut for Mexico on Wednesday.
We haven’t delved into the U.S. Soccer presidential election because, to be honest, it’s been kind of boring since knucklehead Paul Lapointe failed to gain the necessary nominations. We have discussed at length possibilities for the next USMNT coach and the fallout of the Gonzalez switch.
All these issues individually are bad, but combined with the lack of March friendlies on the USMNT schedule they show just how much of a mess U.S. Soccer is right now.
After the November friendly against Portugal, the next FIFA window is March 19-27 (the USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina match was not a FIFA international date). That’s about six weeks away. And still there is nothing schedule for the U.S. men’s team during those dates, when most countries are playing two matches.
Currently, 11 of the 14 European nations who qualified for this summer’s World Cup have two matches scheduled during the March international dates. The three teams with just one match are Belgium, Denmark and Switzerland. Even Italy, the Netherlands and Ireland, three countries who won’t be in Russia this summer, have nailed down two friendlies. All qualified CONMEBOL teams except Uruguay have scheduled two matches; Uruguay is playing just one match, but it’s in China, not exactly close to other competition.
Meanwhile, Mexico will play Iceland and Croatia in the U.S. in March. You might think the U.S. could join in on that and play one of those two squads on home soil, but both Iceland and Croatia are playing World Cup-side Peru stateside during the international window.
So that currently leaves the U.S. without a dance partner, despite previously stating they wanted to play two matches with at least one in Europe. While most of the world is ramping up for the World Cup with quality friendlies, the USMNT schedule is devoid of any sort of competition whatsoever. There will be a friendly against France in Lyon in June, but the U.S. could still add another couple matches in the pre-World Cup window too. While there is still time to set something up, it’s unlikely the U.S. could find two matches and will likely have to settle for one, if any, in March.
It would be easy to dismiss these March dates because the U.S. won’t play another meaningful game for more than a year, but this is a huge missed opportunity. There are only so many FIFA international dates during which the USMNT can join together to train, build rapport and learn who can be trusted at the international level.
So what are the reasons for this? Without inside knowledge of what negotiations have or have not taken place, one obvious culprit is that World Cup teams want to play against other World Cup teams. Why prepare for the biggest tournament in the world by playing teams that weren’t even good enough to qualify? Furthermore, the uncertain states of the coaching staff and USSF presidency clearly don’t help things. It also doesn’t help when the federation president is on his way out and concentrating more on the U.S. 2026 World Cup bid than his actual job as president.
U.S. Soccer could come out in the next couple weeks to announce they had friendlies for the USMNT schedule in the works all along and prove all this moot (although that would raise its own questions as to why the match(es) weren’t announced earlier). But it seems as though it’s just another case of U.S. Soccer’s laundry list of struggles.