By the time you read this the USSF presidential election will either be currently going on or it will have finished already. Either way, there are about to be changes within United States soccer.
How much and the type of change depends on who is the new face of the sport but there is inevitable change coming — yes, even Kathy Carter and Carlos Cordeiro will bring some change.
The biggest change that needs to come is not promotion and relegation. It is not who will be the next coach of the USMNT. Nor is it transparency, youth development, or coaching education. The single most important part of U.S. Soccer that needs to change is the culture itself.
Yesterday, Geoff Cameron talked about one difference between Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena and how it impact the team. He said,
“[Klinsmann] was trying to end the silver-spoon culture and introduce real competitiveness at every level. When Bruce came in, it was like everyone relaxed.”
In American society there is a culture of being the best. Everything we do we want to be the best at. From making cars, to military power, to the Olympics, if the U.S. is not first, we think we have failed.
Soccer is similar in that the U.S. Women’s National Team is always expected to win. But on the men’s side it is not always so. Generally, playing CONCACAF teams the expectation is to always win, unless it is in Mexico. But there needs to be a competitive drive among all levels of soccer in this country that has a culture of competition. It starts on the practice field and naturally goes onto the playing field and this culture of competition will help make the U.S. a threat to the soccer world.
The new president will have an opportunity to change the culture but it also needs to be present at the youth and academy level. Teams need to have that competitive drive within themselves that push players to play the best the can. There needs to be a mindset that when players step onto the field they need to prove that they belong and every day should be a tryout, no matter the level.
The Men’s National Team should not have any players with a guaranteed spot — not even Christian Pulisic. If The Kid is not performing then he needs to sit. If the third string ‘keeper is not pulling his weight, send him home. If top youth prospects aren’t living up to expectations then their leash needs to be shortened.
Competition breeds success. This is why teams all over the world, in all sports, have backups that are as good as starters. If players come to practice knowing that if they have a bad day it will be okay and there are no consequences, then the team cannot win and this is something that the American soccer culture and mentality is missing.
Now the question is how can the culture be changed?
The new president should start it but it will fall on whoever is the next coach of the national team. While Klinsmann was not perfect by any means, and was rightfully let go, he was right to want the best players to go abroad. There is nobody that can make a sensible argument that MLS is one of the best leagues in the world. While I wish it was, and hope it will get there someday, it is not there. The best U.S. players need to be pushed to do the best they can.
While it’s important that American players go play in one of the best leagues in the world, this mentality of always needing to prove that you are good enough will push players farther than they have before if they stay domestically. Every time players are on the field should be a tryout for a starting spot. Academy players and trialists should be brought in to help the competitive nature. It is also important that players do not leave too early and need to prove that they can play at that caliber while in MLS.
Deandre Yedlin is a perfect example. Yedlin went through the U.S. system and ended up in MLS. After an impressive World Cup he moved abroad to Tottenham. Although he wasn’t playing for Spurs he continued to work through the growing pains and is now a starting defender in the English Premier League with Newcastle.
The next USMNT head coach needs to inform and teach his staff how to implement this culture. Then those coaches will go around the country and teach this mentality to youth coaches who will then take it back to their clubs. This is something that everybody needs to buy into for it to work, but it needs to start with the national teams.
It seems simple but it is something that is lacking in the identify of the USSF. If there was this culture implemented when the U.S. went to Trinidad then the Yanks would be preparing for Russia right now.