A 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago ended the USMNT’s qualification hopes for the 2018 World Cup, marking the first time in over 30 years the team won’t be at the biggest sporting event on the plant. You can be sure that heads are going to roll in the aftermath. There’s a lot of blame to go around and everyone from the United States Soccer Federation to the national team players deserve their share of criticism. But there’s one man who will, rightly or wrongly, bare the brunt of it: head coach Bruce Arena.
Arena took over as head coach after a rocky start to the Russia 2018 qualifying campaign under Jürgen Klinsmann, and for a while it seemed the national team was better off because of it. They won the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup on home soil, and after their recent 4-0 win over Costa Rica, it seemed they were destined for another World Cup berth.
But we all know what happened next. In a match that should have been a mere formality, the US choked against the already eliminated Trinidad and Tobago, a side that had lost eight of nine qualification games. Meanwhile, Honduras shocked Mexico, and Panama stunned Costa Rica, allowing both to leap-frog the US.
The CONCACAF Hexagonal grants three qualification spots and one play-off spot, an extremely generous system considering what European and South American nations need to overcome in order to qualify.
Surely this is the end for Bruce Arena, right? He was brought in to correct course and instead steered the USMNT off a cliff.
Bruce Arena Odds
Odds Bruce Arena is fired as USMNT head coach by 2018: 1/3
There’s a lot of “what-ifs” we could ask. What if Klinsmann had been dismissed sooner and the national team didn’t suffer those early losses? What if the “phantom goal” during the Panama game was ruled correctly? What if the unfortunate own goal against T&T never happened?
All these things were out of Arena’s hands and, if any one of them didn’t occur, the US would still be alive. But it should never have been this close in the first place. With all the talent and money in US soccer, failing to qualify for the World Cup is a disgrace.
Odds to replace Bruce Arena as USMNT head coach
Tab Ramos: 2/1
Caleb Porter: 7/1
Tata Martino: 7/1
Dave Sarachan: 15/1
Guus Hiddink: 191
Claudio Ranieri: 35/1
Jürgen Klinsmann: 50/1
There are quite a few names to consider here.
Tab Ramos, the current head coach of the U-20 team, has been an option for some time. Long before the USMNT crashed out of the qualifiers, Ramos was being suggested as Arena’s replacement. He’s the perfect pick to rebuild the team and prepare for 2022, showing the older players the door and stocking the lineup with promising young guns from the U-20 squad.
Portland Timbers coach Caleb Porter and Atlanta United coach Tata Martino are also in the running. Both have done well with their respective clubs and could do equally well with the national team.
Then there’s the current assistant coach, Dave Sarachan. His odds would be shorter, but the long-time Arena assistant may be forced to follow his mentor out the door.
Guus Hiddink has been known to work wonders with national teams. He took South Korea on their miracle run in 2002 and then led Australia past the World Cup group stage for the first time ever. He could be called upon to perform his magic on the USMNT, but his recent track record with Chelsea and the Netherlands has significantly lowered his stock.
Claudio Ranieri, who achieved the greatest underdog victory in sporting history with Leicester City, is also one to consider. But he seems to be content at Nantes for the time being and his record as a national-team manager (Greece, 2014) is actually pretty terrible.
Odds the USMNT fails to qualify for Qatar 2022: 4/1
There’s reason for US fans to be hopeful. The U-20 squad is performing well on the international stage and there’s already quite a bit of promising young talent on the USMNT. The question is whether they can create an environment where the up-and-coming players can flourish instead of focussing on short-term success. If so, then the future is bright for US soccer.