Hopefully some good comes out of this. Since we’ve hit rock bottom hopefully this is a sturdy foundation to build what is going to be a great future. —Tony Beltran
SANDY — U.S. Soccer is rarely at the top sports consciousness in this country. It certainly was on Tuesday night, but for all the wrong reasons.
In losing at Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 in its last World Cup qualifying match, the United States failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It ends a streak of seven straight appearances dating back to 1990.
Some of the words thrown around on social media and mainstream media afterward were embarrassing, pathetic, unacceptable — and the list goes on and on.
Not surprisingly, it was the main talking point at Real Salt Lake on Wednesday as well.
Tony Beltran, who has three appearances with the U.S. National Team in his career, said not qualifying is a huge disappointment.
“I think it’s devastating for U.S. Soccer, for soccer in this country for Major League Soccer. Always when the World Cup comes around there’s so much momentum in the country, so much soccer spirit, and that’s a time when we recruit a lot of new fans, not only to soccer but (to MLS). So it’s pretty detrimental from that standpoint, let’s be honest,” said Beltran.
He said the failure isn’t about one own goal or one loss, but the result of many failures over the qualifying cycle.
“Hopefully some good comes out of this. Since we’ve hit rock bottom hopefully this is a sturdy foundation to build what is going to be a great future,” said Beltran.
That’s been one of the core talking points in the 24 hours since the loss, making drastic changes to the youth developmental structure in the United States. Beltran agrees that changes need to be made, but it’s nothing new.
“Everybody has been crying foul right now, but that’s been apparent for a really long time, so I don’t know why we haven’t changed,” said Beltran. “It was apparent even to my father, who wasn’t involved with the sport whatsoever until I become involved, and that was 15-20 years ago.”
Beltran grew up in Southern California, where he believes soccer opportunities are correlated directly with income. Finding a remedy to that reality is a massive hurdle that many believe U.S. Soccer must seek solutions for in the years ahead.
RSL coach Mike Petke didn’t want to dive too much into the specifics about why the United States failed to qualify. He doesn’t believe that’s fair to coach Bruce Arena, who Petke still believes was the right hire after U.S. Soccer fired Jurgen Klinsmann early in the qualifying cycle.
“I have many opinions, I could sit here and wax poetic, but it wouldn’t be fair because I’m not there. I’m a coach, and I know people have opinions on some of the things I do, outsiders looking in, yet 99 percent of them aren’t here on a daily basis watching what’s going on,” said Petke.
He was pleased, however, to hear that player development at the youth level has emerged as one of the primary talking points about needs to change. After all, Petke has a unique perspective on player development.
After he was fired by the New York Red Bulls after the 2015 season, Petke worked for a season as the Director of Coaching for the New Jersey State Youth Soccer Association.
“I’m somebody who spent over a year with youth development in New Jersey, and I can tell you there’s a lot wrong. There’s a lot right, but there’s a lot wrong,” said Petke.
“I believe that U.S. Soccer has the resources, so we have to look very deep at what went wrong, and not just the 90 minutes last night, but over the last 5, 10 (years), whatever it’s been.”
Not long after the United States loss on Tuesday, former player Taylor Twellman — now an analyst for ESPN — went on a highly-praised rant on ESPN about everything that is wrong with soccer in this country. He said everyone needs to look in the mirror.
As an MLS coach, Petke said it’s something he must do too.
“I take a small responsibility as every MLS coach should. I’m in a position I’m trying to develop. We have young American players, so I have to look myself in the mirror in some little aspect and share in that blame,” he said. “I’m interested to see what happens now over the course of the next week, month, year, four years, eight years.”
In the short term though, Petke is focused on this Sunday’s match at Colorado as Real Salt Lake hopes to claim one of the last playoff sports from the Western Conference.