U.S. soccer must look to the future, after a disappointing first round exit from the World Cup in Germany. VOA Sports Editor Parke Brewer followed their matches in Germany and has a report.
The speculation has already started about the future of U.S. soccer and particularly that of head coach Bruce Arena.
The 55-year-old Arena has been the coach for eight years, the longest for any team at the World Cup. He has been the most successful coach in U.S. soccer history. After he led the USA to a surprising quarterfinal berth at the 2002 World Cup, there were high hopes for the team in Germany.
But Arena and other followers of U.S. soccer knew when the tournament draw was held last December that the Americans would face a daunting challenge. They were placed in one of the most, if not the most, difficult groups with Italy, the Czech Republic and Ghana.
In the first match against the Czech Republic, ranked second in the world, the USA conceded a goal in the first five minutes, and that seemed to set the tone for the team's fate. The Americans lost, 3-0. They also fell behind by yielding goals before the 30-minute mark in their other two group games. They gained a valiant 1-1 tie with powerful Italy, playing a man down for nearly the entire second half, but lost to Ghana in their third match Friday, 2-1, sending the African nation to the second round in its World Cup debut. A win would have put the Americans through.
Coach Arena said the U.S. team's failure to equal its performance from four years ago should not have a negative impact on the game in the United States.
"U.S. soccer has a bright future. I think in another group we would have had better chances to advance. I think we were among the top half of the teams in this tournament. I think, in the future, I would say to FIFA, they should be seeding the 32 teams, and not have groups like this. But I think we continue to get better. Despite the two losses, I think we demonstrated that we could, play. You see, some of the other groups, some of the games were very lopsided. This group was a real battle," he said.
U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati was as disappointed as other followers, and put the team's first-round exit in perspective.
"I guess all of us feel a little like the 100-yard [meter] sprinters do when you work for four years [for the Olympics], and you've got 10 seconds to make it or break it. And so [at the World Cup] it comes down to three [first round group] games, and everything gets evaluated on those three games. But it's been a pretty good four-year period in qualifying, and so on. But this is where the entire world is watching. This is where you measure yourself. That didn't come out well. So we'll certainly look at it and see what we do," he said.
Bruce Arena's coaching contract with the U.S. soccer team runs until the end of this year, and Gulati said there will be no hasty decision.
"I said it before the tournament, where our heads [thoughts] were on Bruce, we are not going to be solely determined by three games. He didn't become a bad coach in these three games. He's had an extraordinary record for us, and has done extraordinary things for American soccer. We don't solve our issues by changing coaches, then figure out what went wrong. We'll look at the situation in a sensible way, the entire record. And it's not just the entire record of Bruce. It's the entire record of what we've done as an organization. We'll look at the whole thing," he said.
Bruce Arena has said he might like to coach in Europe and has indicated he has other opportunities he needs to examine. It remains to be determined whether those will be options or necessities.