New ESPN report alleges that locker room troubles and a lack of a 'fighting spirit' led to the US failing to qualify for the World Cup
- Chemistry problems and locker room tension reportedly beset the U.S. Men's National Team's doomed World Cup qualifying campaign.
- Two significant sources of tension are alleged to be defender Geoff Cameron, as well as a contingent of German-American dual citizen players within the program.
- Furthermore, figures connected to the program claim the USMNT has lost the fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude that was once a hallmark of the team.
The failure of the United States to qualify for World Cup 2018 required many things to go wrong. But a new report from Jeff Carlisle of ESPN alleges that the most significant factor was poor locker room chemistry and a lack of a "fight until the end" mentality that had defined previous U.S. Men's soccer teams.
"Chemistry for me is about commitment," long-serving U.S. Men's National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard told Carlisle. "It's not about personalities. I think when people think about team chemistry, it's like one big powwow and everyone loves each other and hangs out. Chemistry is having one direct message from the manager -- 'This is the style we're going to play. This is what I expect of you as a player' -- and then going out and performing every single day."
As far as possible sources of the locker room strife go, U.S. and Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron does not come out looking particularly great in the piece. Carlisle wrote that after being told he would be given a reduced role in the fateful pair of qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago, Cameron's attitude was so poor that " . . . there was consideration given to sending him home, though [then U.S. Soccer manager Bruce] Arena denied that this was the case."
Another claim made in Carlisle's piece — albeit one only made through anonymous sources, with no hard evidence to support it — is that there was tension in the program between players born and raised in the U.S., and German-American players such as Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson, claims which have been made before. Johnson himself denied such claims in the report, while Jones declined to comment.
In addition to, or perhaps because of, these locker room problems, Carlisle's piece extensively alludes to the idea that the U.S. Men's National Team has lost its fighting spirit.
"When we were in Trinidad, we needed better fighters. We didn't necessarily need better players," one former U.S. international, who asked to remain anonymous in Carlisle's piece, told ESPN. "That's what we've lost. We've lost how to fight, how to battle to get results."
And Alejandro Bedoya, who was on the roster for those two crucial qualifying matches, told Carlisle, "There was complacency . . . We were losing easy balls in the middle of the field when we wanted to attack them out wide and that stuff. So it felt like maybe there was a little bit of complacency, a little bit of arrogance about our style that we just needed to get out there and get the job done."
Even these concerns do not cover the full range of what had to go wrong for this disaster to hit the U.S. Soccer program. Both managers Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena made coaching blunders during the qualification process. Furthermore, the generation of U.S. Soccer talent behind Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey turned out to be a bit of a lost generation for U.S. Soccer, failing to produce players capable of supplanting or even just pushing entrenched U.S. veterans to fight for their roles on the team.
You can read Carlisle's full report here.