The US will not compete in the World Cup tournament in Russia in 2018. The immediate reason for that is the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) lost to Trinidad and Tobago a couple of days ago. As of this morning, Trinidad and Tobago ranks 99th in the world on the FIFA World Table; that puts it two notches behind Mauritania and two notches above Madagascar. And the US lost to that team in a situation where a win or a tie guaranteed the Americans a trip to the World Cup. That is about as embarrassing as losing a game to the Cleveland Browns.
Forget all the nonsense you may have read about how this sets back the development of soccer as a major sport in the US. The US would have struggled to make it out of the Group stage in the World Cup and was not going to win the tournament. A World Cup is what it would take to have soccer take meaningful strides in the US as a major sport; that was simply not going to happen. Here is the most important take-away from this embarrassing loss:
- In his post-game press conference, US Coach, Bruce Arena, expressed his shock and his dismay at the outcome and said that the team should be in the World Cup tournament. Then he added that there was no reason to make sweeping changes to US Soccer; he said that there was a solid and progressive system in place and this was not the time to contemplate significant changes.
Excuse me? You lost a play-in game to the 99th best team in the world and you think everything is hunky-dory? Here is the logical end-point to that line of thinking:
- This sort of thing will happen again.
Looking analytically and not emotionally at the situation, men’s soccer in the US is a niche sport that is played mainly in the suburbs. Even in that suburban sports environment, the best athletes do not tend to gravitate to soccer over football, basketball and baseball and the coaching/training available to most suburban soccer players is amateurish. That is the current state of affairs as overseen by the US Soccer nabobs. Those folks – the ones who hired Bruce Arena – need to look at their programs and their structures to figure out why the USMNT lost to Trinidad and Tobago and to figure out how to prevent that from happening again.
Notwithstanding Bruce Arena’s self-interested statement, this is exactly the time for thought, analysis and then significant change. One thing that might be very beneficial would be to identify young talent early on and then to send those young players overseas for soccer training at some of the academies there. I am not a soccer expert but when I watch European players as opposed to American players, they play differently. European players seem to know what they are going to do with the ball before it arrives on their foot; American players seem to focus on trapping the ball and setting up to do something that they will figure out once they have the ball controlled. I doubt that is genetic; I suspect it is taught – – except not in whatever US teaching/training programs exist.
Since I mentioned the Cleveland Browns above – in great literature that is called foreshadowing; here it is called a convenient coincidence – the team has decided to bench rookie QB, DeShone Kizer this week and to start Kevin Hogan. Since the Browns were reborn in 1999, their cumulative record is 88-205; that is a winning percentage of .300; their number of starting QBs over that stretch is measured in dozens; the current head coach has a record of 1-20 since his arrival; the GM and much of the Front Office come from the world of baseball and they are devoted to advanced analytics. If NFL Films decides to do an hour-long feature on this mess, here is my suggested title:
- Moneyball Comes To Cleveland
Whatever advanced algorithms are in use by the Browns’ Front Office, may I suggest that they need more work. Indeed, the team roster was devoid of sufficient talent a few years ago and just about nowhere was the talent deficit starker than at the QB position. So, what did the analytics tell the Browns to do in free agency and in the NFL Draft?
- Two years ago, the analytics said to pass on drafting Carson Wentz in the #2 slot and trade down with the Eagles. I am not nearly ready to anoint Wentz as a great QB, but he is a whole lot better than anyone who has played the position – or been on the roster to run the scout team in practice – for the Browns in the last two seasons. The Front Office explained their choice saying that their data did not project Wentz as a top 20 NFL QB. Compare that standard to the QBs on the Browns’ roster today (DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler) and ask which of them the analytics projects as a Top 20 NFL QB…
- Last year, the analytics said to do the same thing to DeShaun Watson and wait to draft Deshone Kizer in the second round. (Actually, the Browns passed on Watson twice since they had the 1st overall pick and then, the 12th overall pick which they traded away to Texas to allow the Texans to draft Watson.)
This week, the Browns travel to Houston to face DeShaun Watson and the Texans. If Kevin Hogan leads the Browns to a win, you can be certain that the Cleveland papers will anoint the team as “Hogan’s Heroes”. If, however, they lose [Aside: The Texans are minus-500 on the money line.] and Watson lights the Browns’ defense up, someone should ask the GM what he was thinking. His perfect response would be to channel Sergeant Schultz and say:
“I know nuuuuthing.”
It would at least be very close to the truth…
Oh, speaking of DeShaun Watson as the Texans’ QB, let us just say that Bill O’Brien has made do with some quarterbacking mediocrity since his arrival in Houston. Prior to drafting Watson – and inserting him into the lineup in Game 1 – here are the Texans’ QBs that have given the team three consecutive winning records:
- Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Brian Hoyer
- Case Keenum
- Ryan Mallett
- Brock Osweiler
- Tom Savage
- T.J. Yates
I do not want to anoint DeShaun Watson as an all-time NFL great just yet, but looking at his seven predecessors as the Texans QBs, can we agree that they would not be known as The Magnificent Seven?
Finally, since I have been talking about quarterbacks here, let me close with an observation made by Dandy Don Meredith about his Cowboys’ coach, Tom Landry:
“Coach Tom Landry is such a perfectionist that if he was married to Raquel Welch, he would expect her to cook.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports………