Tonight, while MBA is thrashing Ensworth on the football field, another game of huge importance will be taking place in Orlando. There, the United States Men’s National Team will face off against Panama in a crucial match that will have a huge effect on whether or not the Red, White, and Blue will be seen at next year’s World Cup. The United States currently sit in fourth place of the six Central and Northern American teams fighting for three spots in Russia next summer.
Earlier this year, the United States Men’s National Team tied Mexico 1-1 at the infamous “Azteca” Stadium in Mexico City, a venue that the US rarely walks away from unscathed. This surprising result was met with plaudits for the resilience of the National Team as well as the newly appointed coach, Bruce Arenas. The result was crucial for the United States in terms of their chances of qualifying for the World Cup in Russia next summer. Any momentum and optimism gained from this result, however, was tarnished in the most recent international break. On September 1, Costa Rica strolled into the Red Bull Arena in New Jersey and promptly defeated the United States 2-0, walking away with a crucial win in the hexagonal battle for World Cup qualification.
The loss to Costa Rica was the first of Bruce Arena’s second stint as United States Men’s National Team coach. This loss broke the levee holding back criticism of Arena. About one year ago, Bruce Arena, a coach whose resume includes a previously mediocre spell coaching the United States in the early 2000’s as well as other achievements such as coaching the University of Virginia to a handful of National Championships, replaced Jurgen Klinsmann, a German born coach whose history includes winning a World Cup with West Germany in 1990, leading the German National Team to a World Cup semi-final, as well as coaching Bayern Munchen, as the manager of the United States National Team. While criticism of Arena had been hard to find prior to the loss to Costa Rica, questions regarding his qualifications for the job as well as the validity of Klinsmann’s firing were raised.
These questions were left unanswered on September 5th when the United States lost to Honduras, the 74th ranked team in the world, 1-1. This result was the equivalent of the MBA varsity football team losing to the Oak Hill sixth grade football team on the last week of the regular season. It was a game that they should have won, and the final result did nothing to help their chances of making a successful playoff run.
When the United States played Panama in a Gold Cup match at Nissan Stadium in Nashville this summer, it became clear that the United States had problems to sort out. Their performance drew many to describe the team as “languid,” “disinterested,” and “uninspired.” Their recent form has done nothing in the way of responding to their poor form.
Alexi Lalas, a former United States defender, went through the team player by player in his commentary of the Honduras game, addressing some of the attitude problems of the United States players and administration. The highlights of his rant against the team included such comment as, “To Bruce Arena, Jurgen Klinsmann lost at home to Mexico, you lost at home to Costa Rica -- this is now all on you,” and, “Tim Howard, the Belgium game was four years ago, we need you to start making saves now.” While Lalas’s criticism may seem harsh, it cannot be discarded as false.
The problem with the United States National team lies with its attitude. For a National Team to show such a lack of enthusiasm to play for their country is inexcusable. One solution to the team’s problems could be as simple as reviving the spirit of the National Team that has been so evident in their great performances at such competitions as the previous World Cup.
If the United States wishes to participate at the World Cup in 2018, they must start winning, now. If the United States can have a definitive win against Panama tonight, they may just be back on track to reach Russia next summer.