Despite the fact that he’s been an integral part to two successful MLS franchises, Atlanta United captain Michael Parkhurst has never found a firm place on the US Men’s National Team. This is despite being a steady defender, excellent passer, and a leader in his club career. Recently, Parkhurst commented on what will be a critical part of re-building the USMNT - instilling a sense of pride in suiting up for country:
I'm not sure what these comments by Michael Parkhurst (on MLS Rewind) mean about the culture and attitude within the #USMNT - it could be anywhere from a huge issue to needing to reset things for a new cycle - but it's definitely not ideal. pic.twitter.com/dC5symR8sm— Ryan Rosenblatt (@RyanRosenblatt) December 1, 2018
Much of the story that has been told about the way forward for the Stars and Stripes has been about player development with a re-emphasis on players going abroad after the recent team with its core in MLS failed to reach the World Cup. But a critical part of that failure was the “toxic” culture within the team with perceptions of players who came to MLS for a big paycheck, the mind-games deployed by former manager Jurgen Klinsmann, and Bruce Arena’s apparent favoritism of MLS players.
While blame has been heaped on Arena and Klinsmann, the players are obviously at fault for the decline of the national team. Parkhurst’s comments reflect what he sees as a lack of desire to play for the national team and evidence of that seems to be clear from some of the performances during the failed qualification cycle. In the match preceding the firing of Klinsmann in Costa Rica the USA fell 4-0 that showed that the manager had lost the locker room, that the players themselves had mentally tuned out, or both in the low-effort embarrassment.
In the aftermath of the loss that toxic mindset seemed evident in the fact that nobody seemed willing to take responsibility from the top. Bruce Arena waited several days to resign as manager, Sunil Guliti insisted that he would run for another USSF President term and then allegedly misled the media about backing a handpicked successor for the role, and the Athletes Council ended up swaying the vote for the new president to Carlos Cordeiro, an insider, anyway.
Meanwhile national team players launched accusations of favoritism against Bruce Arena and the federation itself. Geoff Cameron, who was astonishingly benched by Arena, took to the Player’s Tribune and wrote that prior to the match on a waterlogged field in Trinidad & Tobago, “the whole coaching staff was just … honestly, it was like it was all a big joke. They were so loose that, in retrospect, it was actually ridiculous.” Another player that could have contributed to the national team, Danny Williams, claimed that he was told MLS marketing influenced roster selections. In response, Arena denied the claims by Williams in an article that read like a USSF PR piece on ESPN and mocked Cameron as a “bad egg,” without using his name.
Parkhurst’s comments underline how far away from what the USMNT was known for the team had gotten. Jurgen Klinsmann seems to have replaced the teamwork, cohesion, and never say die attitude of the two decades prior to his tenure with “sending messages” and experiments. Arena went in a completely different direction, rather than being more demanding, he brought a lax attitude to the team and an own goal and goalkeeper error turned what should have been an ideal matchup into a comedy of errors. Now, according to the veteran center back, players see the national team as a burden.
This is a chance for a new start for Gregg Berhalter. In one sense the 400 plus days that the USA has been led by an interim manager has provided some space and time to distance players who will still be in the national team picture from a culture and mindset that led to failure. Starting with building pride in the crest will be a difficult, but necessary first step as manager.