U.S. failure to qualify for World Cup 'huge disappointment'
United States Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati has called the U.S.'s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup "a huge disappointment," and said the team's poor CONCACAF campaign this cycle was "not good enough."
The U.S. were eliminated from a place in the World Cup finals in Russia next summer after a disastrous 2-1 loss at last-placed Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night, marking the first time since 1986 the Americans will not take part in the sport's biggest event.
Manager Bruce Arena's side finished fifth out of six teams in the final round of qualifying, losing four of their 10 matches. And Gulati told the New York Times the results were unacceptable for the program.
"We certainly expected to qualify, throughout the process, and especially after Friday night," Gulati said, referring to last week's 4-0 qualifying defeat of Panama in Orlando.
"It's a huge disappointment for everybody; the players, the staff, the coaches, the federation. It's not good enough."
In addition to Gulati, former U.S. internationals Cobi Jones and Marcelo Balboa piled on with their own criticism of the team's performance.
"It's a cycle where the players were saying that it was the most talented team that they'd ever seen in U.S. history. But this was a team that didn't have heart," Balboa said on Univision Deportes Network after the match.
"They were fighting tonight for a place in the World Cup and there were players jogging on the field, there were guys not sliding and not giving 100 percent of themselves. That hurts me. What I saw in the field in the first half hurts me."
Jones, who was working as a color analyst for beIN Sports on Tuesday, echoed his World Cup 1994 teammate's sentiments.
"I'm pissed. When it comes down to it, I look at the way that game went and there was a lack of effort throughout," Jones said after the loss. "Especially when I look at the last 10 or 15 minutes, when I know those players have an idea of what's on the line, I didn't see any type of change of pace, any type of energy brought into the game to try to raise the level and want to make something happen. That's the most frustrating part.
"When you have five or six players that in [a] game that means so much are playing average to below-average level, you're not going to win.
"You can't take any team in CONCACAF for granted. They knew it was difficult, but it seemed to be lacking from the players an idea of 'OK we know it's difficult, but I'm going to do something about it.'"
Balboa also took issue with the mindset of the players and the federation ahead of Tuesday's crucial clash in Port of Spain.
The team was greeted by soggy conditions for training on Monday, with some players forced to wade through ankle-deep water to get to the field, while others received piggyback rides from members of the U.S. support staff.
And Balboa said: "The US team came out today and thought the game was going to be a lot easier than they thought.
"And another thing: 48 hours before the game, all they were talking about was the field and 'Is it going to be ready? Is it going to rain?' For me, the minds of the players and the federation wasn't on the game, but it was more about whether the field was going to be ready to play the kind of style that they wanted to play."
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