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Why we have to get younger: Part 2

The locker room is broken.

Costa Rica v United States - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

When the USMNT go to Qatar, we can’t continue to utilize players past their sell-by date as we attempted to do during the last cycle. In part 1 of this discussion, I spoke about the advanced age of our players in how it relates to the World Cup in Qatar, but an aging roster is only one reason why it is necessary to aim for younger and hungrier players.

The second reason is because the locker room is broken to the point where the best possible fix is a major overhaul. Players and coaches consistently not on the same page shows how out of touch they were with one another. Any time a team is moving in different directions while trying to reach one goal is a recipe for disaster. The fallout from the World Cup failure has made us realize how fractured the locker room was during the qualification process. These are several examples proving this case:

In January of last year, Tim Howard spoke out about then-recently-fired Jurgen Klinsmann and about having players play for the USMNT that he believed ”weren’t passionate“ about playing for the country. Jurgen Klinsmann had recruited and played several German-born Americans during his time as the men’s national team coach. Howard said at the time that Bruce Arena would add ”the ability to truly believe in the shirt...I think we lost that a little bit over the last couple of years.“ His comments were then slammed by Jermaine Jones, one of several German-Americans on the USMNT (although he was part of the US setup prior to Klinsmann’s hiring). Jones responded by saying ”It’s not if you’re half American or full American, it’s more about what’s in here (heart).“ Howard is one of the greatest goal keepers in USMNT history, but his comments did nothing to repair a locker room in disarray.

As captain, Michael Bradley is seen as the leader and heartbeat of the team. When the team struggled under his leadership, he was criticized by fans, media and his coaches. Jurgen Klinsmann was very critical of Bradley throughout his tenure, even virtually blaming him and Jermaine Jones for his tactics being ineffective against Mexico on the opening night of the Hex. Bradley jabbed back at Klinsmann, saying “I think ultimately, among us all, it was clear, it made sense to change [the formation].” Bradley and Klinsmann also seemed to be at odds over where he was best deployed on the field at the end of Klinsmann’s tenure. Following the 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Costa Rica, Klinsmann was then removed as head coach and technical director. Bradley and Klinsmann certainly weren’t the first coach and captain to disagree. However, if the players in the locker room were all on Michael Bradley’s side in that argument, I would imagine the locker room issues would have ended when Klinsmann was removed. That clearly proved to not be the case.

Geoff Cameron believes that US Soccer drove a wedge between MLS-based American players and Americans playing elsewhere. He was arguably the USMNT’s best center back during the last cycle and the leader of the back line. In a New York Times article last month, Cameron said, ”There’s no doubt in my mind that if Jurgen Klinsmann was still our head coach, we would have qualified for the World Cup.“ He also said, ”Bruce made decisions that cost us going to the World Cup.“ In his Players Tribune article, Cameron goes even deeper to say, ”The powers that be in US Soccer have created a poisonous divide between MLS players and the so-called ‘European‘ players....“ Regardless of everyone’s feelings about our inept coaching and our incompetent soccer federation, to have such an important piece of the team unwilling to buy into what the coach was saying is bad for a team that needed results. Bruce Arena made mention of a few ”bad eggs“ that he was unable to reach. Apparently Geoff Cameron was one of them.

From a purely footballing perspective, having Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron and Tim Howard (among many others from the old guard) around for the next year or two or even throughout the next cycle makes a lot of sense. They’ve all experienced moments on the game’s biggest stage. They could teach the younger generation and give some perspective of what is required to play internationally on the big stages. But from a locker room perspective, it could absolutely poison the next generation with the same biases and differences that ultimately lead to this cycle’s failure. For this reason, we need to get younger and eliminate the old generation from the locker room. Cut the dead weight and run. Let the young generation figure out their identity and who the new leaders need to be. Allow them to form their own foundation to start the rebuild. That rebuild needs to start today. So what if the US loses some meaningless games against Ireland and France? So what if they don’t win the CONCACAF League of Nations or the Gold Cup next year? There’s unlikely to be a Confederations Cup in 2021 anyway. Let the new generation figure it out together. In my opinion, this is the only way that US Soccer can truly get past this failure.