For those clamoring for change in the U.S. Men’s National Team and development programs, there’s some measure of solace in knowing there’s a search underway for a new head coach and there’s promise of a review of the system.
But, while a long-range plan is needed, it should also be remembered that there was something unique to this team that made it vulnerable to elimination from the World Cup.
After all, seven previous teams made the World Cup and won a few games despite coming up under the same system that supposedly failed this generation.
This particular team was short on the grit others thrived on. For all his faults, Jermaine Jones brought a toughness to the 2014 team that this one lacked.
In the 44th minute of the national team’s defeat to Trinidad, Alvin Jones slapped a free kick that skipped through the box and bounced off keeper Tim Howard's chest.
The ball squirted toward the edge of the box near the byline and Howard left his goal to give chase. He battled for possession before the ball was knocked out.
Howard's defenders had the best view of the keeper's struggles as they stood and watched him. In a critical game with a World Cup berth at stake, the defenders decided now was a good time to become spectators rather than combatants.
BeIN Sports announcer Cobi Jones said they stood there like statues.
It was the most telling moment in a disastrous night for U.S. soccer.
Despite the high stakes, there was no urgency, no fight, no "strength of character," as former Revolution coach Steve Nicol said later.
After the game Jones - the all time leader in U.S. caps - ripped into the team.
"I’m pissed. When it comes down to it, I look at the way that game went and there was a lack of effort throughout,” he said in the BeIN studio. "Especially when I look at the last 10 or 15 minutes, when I know those players have an idea of what’s on the line, I didn’t see any type of change of pace, any type of energy brought into the game to try to raise the level and want to make something happen. That’s the most frustrating part."
Most analysts concluded from the game that the U.S. needs to overhaul its player development model, putting the blame on pay to play, coaching, and college schedules. You'll get no argument here.
But, several former players said it was also the nature of this particular team.
Christian Sullivan said this team lacked effort and personality. Marcelo Baboa said on Univision: "It's a cycle where the players were saying that it was the most talented team that they’d ever seen in US history. But this was a team that didn’t have heart."
The title most talented ever is debatable. Individually the roster was littered with players with experience in Germany and England. Yet, as a team, it underachieved.
Previous teams got by on work rate, defense and outstanding goalkeeping.
In 2014, Howard stopped 15 shots by Belgium, continuing the tradition of great US keepers.
But, Howard is on the down side of his career, and, as Rick Pitino might say, Kasey Keller is not walking through that door.
So, yes, the U.S. has to change the way it develops players. But, they also need players who know the U.S. cannot get by on talent alone.
It needs players with a combination of talent, toughness and desire.