What’s The Breaking Point For USMNT Fans After Another Shameful Result?

Josh Sargent sprinted to the sideline, thinking his race had been run. Alas, even substitutions proved too difficult for the USMNT on Tuesday: The substitution board read 15, not Sargent’s No. 19; the striker was to suffer through the full 90, just like all the fans watching on TV.

The U.S. lost to Canada for the first time in 34 years on Tuesday in Toronto, a 2-0 defeat that proved the Canucks are indeed a team to be reckoned with in Concacaf. At the same time, it proved the USMNT is not good at (men’s) soccer right now despite a 7-0 win over Cuba and needs to seriously consider making some drastic changes, starting at the top. 

Two years and five days on from the worst day in USMNT history, we saw a team that showed absolutely no improvement over the squad that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Gregg Berhalter’s long-delayed hire meant a lost year of development, the new coach’s tactics have yet to take root and we haven’t seen positive results on the pitch against quality competition.

U.S. Soccer is no better off than it was two years ago.

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“The first thing that stands out to me, was desire; desire of Canada,” Berhalter said after the match, a damning statement from a coach whose job is to inspire his charges. “Give them credit. But having said that, the minimum we expect is to match that. We need to compete on every single play in games like this, and that’s important. 

“I don’t think it was a lack of effort. I don’t think it was purposeful. But I wasn’t happy with the desire that we displayed tonight to win the soccer game. Too many 50-50 balls we lost, and that hurt us.”

Much has been and will be said about Berhalter’s tactics, the quality of players at his disposal (or lack thereof) and the seeming lack of desire in this U.S. team. Taylor Twellman has gone on another one of his rants, saying the USMNT is in full-on crisis mode. His commentary teammate Ian Darke suggested the U.S. just rip up its plan and start again. Grant Wahl wondered if anyone at U.S. Soccer learned anything from the 2018 World Cup failure. NBC Sports called it a new low for Berhalter and the USMNT. Stu Holden said it was an embarrassment. 

Wahl’s postmortem of the Canada match in particular called out the lack of progress in U.S. Soccer to make meaningful change. We readily criticized FIFA for being slow to fix its endemic corruption, but the USSF has essentially stayed the course since the 2017 calamity in Cuova. GM positions were created for the men’s and women’s national teams, but USSF took forever to fill both positions (the USWNT position was only recently filled by Kate Markgraf). Earnie Stewart received a promotion to USSF sporting director after hiring Berhalter while Jay Berhalter (yes, Gregg’s brother) is in line to become the next USSF CEO despite the New York Times recently outlining complaints he created a toxic workplace in U.S. Soccer. 

The sad truth is the USSF hasn’t really evolved one bit since Cuova. New president Carlos Cordeiro is same as the old boss, SUM is still creating conflicts of interest and the USWNT isn’t giving up its lawsuits against USSF anytime soon. 

There is a real apathy in U.S. Soccer right now that doesn’t look to be going away anytime soon. Until that changes, we shouldn’t expect anything more than for the USMNT to beat shitty Cuba and lose to average Canada. 

Scariest of all, the apathy from U.S. Soccer is spreading to the media and fan base. Fans aren’t as outraged by this Canada loss in part because it wasn’t as meaningful but also because they’re becoming numb to bad results. A 3-0 defeat to Mexico last month was infuriating, but no one was surprised by it. The New York Times didn’t even bother publishing an article on the loss to Canada, despite the match taking place across the border from New York.

Progress is not linear, especially in sports where players come and go so quickly. A 7-0 win followed by a 2-0 defeat therefore doesn’t mean the end of the world. 

But when players show the same sort of indifference on the pitch as U.S. Soccer shows off it, there is real cause for concern. 

This team isn’t going anywhere fast. It’s stagnant and losing time, a year after U.S. Soccer wasted an entire year without a coach. 

Where do you go from here?

Do you drop Berhalter after a year and go in a different direction? It probably couldn’t hurt to have a coach who sees player development as a part of his job. Do you push the youth movement even further and start bringing in Tab Ramos and his crew of exciting U-20 national team players? Worth a shot. 

But the real change has to happen within U.S. Soccer, which can’t even figure out how to appropriately pay the best soccer team in the world, let alone one deal with a mess of a men’s national team. 

I watched in dismay, as many Americans did, the USMNT flail around the pitch with no real direction on Tuesday night, at one point texting my brother to say it looked like one of our old high school games. I was simultaneously tuned in to the Democratic presidential debate — my girlfriend in my lap, put to sleep from one glass of wine and Beto O’Rourke’s desperate rhetoric. Just as most Americans tune out after 90 minutes of the same old health-care debate with no real action, U.S. soccer fans tune out after 90 minutes of tepid, uninspiring play. We’ve all seen this movie before. 

Fans will continue to tune out as U.S. Soccer continues to show little desire to use its huge size and financial clout to develop a soccer program worth rooting for, let alone worth watching. 

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