Pitch Points plays catch-up

Hey! It’s been a while since one of these posts. Herein, I round up links of interest in the world of Nashville and US Soccer. If you ever find something you want me to include, you can hit me on the socials or via e-mail. On with the show.

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US Soccer taking notice of Nashville. This was a hype piece for the US Open Cup game against Louisville, but it ages pretty well.

“Coming in from Sporting Kansas City, the Open Cup, and what it means to American soccer, is just part of my DNA,” said [Mike] Jacobs, an understated front-office wizard who had a large hand in finding the talent to fit the needs and desires of coach Smith. “We’re making a statement in the Open Cup in our first year and that’s massive for the equity and credibility of this club and for the future of soccer here in Nashville. We’re showing we can compete with teams from all levels of the American soccer scene.”

Nashville aren’t just competing with teams higher up the food chain, they’re beating them

Yes, the loss to Louisville stunk. It prevented NSC from getting the national hype that Cincinnati received for its Open Cup run. However, some of that groundwork has hopefully already been laid, and the club can grow from it.

There may be positives in terms of reduced fatigue down the home stretch as well, though I’m sort of skeptical that playing two extra games really tired FCC out all that much last year: they were just the sixth-best team in the East, and earned a deserving first-round playoff exit.

Of course, there’s plenty of reason to be excited about Nashville SC’s trajectory, including inaugural season ticket record. Hopefully that means we don’t have to have extended season ticket discussions ever again (unfortunately, “Twitter” and “the FC Cincinnati fanbase” still exist, so that’s a pipe dream).

World Cup on the way. It doesn’t feel like the World Cup in the United States is eight years away – the level of celebration has been higher than something not happening for nearly a decade – but that’s fine. It’s going to be a massive positive for the United States, no matter how far off in the distance it is.

Sorry for subjecting you to the absolute nightmare that is SI.com. How have they not hired new web designers?

Anyway. It’s a big first step for USSF president Carlos Cordeiro (along with hiring Earnie Stewart as the GM for the MNT), and it’ll be extremely interesting to see where his focus goes now. He campaigned largely on a platform of “change but not too much change” and “landing the World Cup is very important.” Will he focus on development? Stay on the side of building finances for the federation? A lot about the future of US Soccer depends upon where he goes with it.

So far, the federation has been more “let’s stay focused on this big win“-oriented, which is fine for the short-term.

The striker whisperer. I’ve actually been higher on Gyasi Zardes than literally every other USMNT fan ever, so it shouldn’t surprise that I’m very happy to see him thriving in Columbus under Gregg Berhalter.

Perhaps no team in the league has as defined a system as Crew SC. Columbus play one of the more consistent, recognizable styles in MLS. They’re committed to playing nearly everything out of the back, they almost always dominate the ball and they’re very rarely out of step with each other. The system makes them better than the sum of their parts – and it regularly serves up gorgeous chances for their strikers.

That… also sounds like a system that you’d like to see the USMNT play, yeah? Berhalter has been one of the most-mentioned names for the managerial position, and he and Jesse Marsch (New York Red Bulls) have probably emerged as my top two, if General Manager Earnie Stewart intends to hire domestically.

Bobby Wood could certainly use a guy to generate scoring opportunities for him schematically to help snap out of what feels like a two-year slump (but is actually only one year and ticking).

Hot takes are dumb. It sucks when your team doesn’t make the World Cup. There’s a lot of blame to go around in the case of the USMNT in 2018. “The team lost its fight,” however, is a dumb hot take. However many former US Internationals (or current US Soccer staffers!) say that, it’s a level of analysis that you expect from a sports talk radio caller, not someone who’s actually interested in identifying or solving the problems.

Again, it sucks. How many countries made the previous seven World Cups in a row, though? (Hey, time for me to make a Sporcle quiz!). Evaluating actual weaknesses that you can take action upon (like don’t hire somebody to be coach and technical director if you’re not willing to implement his plan, don’t then fire him only to hire a worse coach, etc.), rather than “DURRR GRITTY GRIT” is preferred, thanks.

Etc.: All sports is political. Part 2. … US Soccer feature on Timothy Weah. … A country that’s the subject of “hey, not quite as racist as you think, but still really racist” columns is currently hosting the World Cup, by the way. Not that the US is a whole lot better these days. … Entracht Frankfurt opening an academy in the States. … Livin’ the blog dream.

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United bid wins World Cup 2026 for North America

The World Cup is coming to North America, with the majority of its games played in the United States – and possibly some taking place in Nashville.

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This morning, the joint bid between the Canada, Mexico, and the U.S. defeated a competing bid from Morocco to land the World Cup in eight years’ time. After the Americans failed to overcome hilariously obvious corruption in bidding for the 2022 World Cup in a 2010 vote (Qatar won, and, uh, literally every single stadium has been built by slave labor with hundreds of workers dying in conditions that are considered human rights violations – as is tradition for all the most legitimately-won World Cups), adding its two Concacaf companions for the next attempt was… barely enough to overcome another obvious human rights atrocity waiting to happen. Barely.

The voting process was changed in the wake of the 2010 process (and the ensuing criminal charges leveled against many on the FIFA executive committee), with all eligible nations voting, rather than a smaller group consisting exclusively of the easily-bribed Executive Committee. On the eve of the 2018 World Cup, the United Bid won by a count of 134-65 over Morocco. If you’re interested in a little bit of hilarious gallows humor… the USMNT won’t be able to fail to qualify! (Host nations are granted automatic entry).

Nashville’s Nissan Stadium was included in the bid proposal as a competition venue for 2026, and Nashville SC’s MLS team (which will be in its seventh year at the time), with the training and competition facilities that will be built along the way, was one of the selling points. While there’s no guarantee, the world’s biggest sporting event will most likely be coming to Music City.

See you in eight years, world.

Nashville Soccer 346: Why isn’t the United States in the World Cup?

Since high-level soccer is new to Nashville, we have to make sure that fans are up to speed on the game. Today, a big-picture look at why the United States isn’t in Russia for the next month. See other entries in the series in Nashville Soccer University here or linked on the menu to your right.

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Location: definitely not Russia. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

We’ll gloss over some of the material from your 100- and 200-level courses in the subject, just to make sure we’re up to speed here.

NS103: What is the World Cup

This is the quadrennial competition between the top national teams in the world. It currently consists of 32 teams (it’s expanding eight years from now) who qualify through their regional confederations. Generally speaking, the top handful of national teams from each region make the competition. Europe (UEFA) and South America (CONMEBOL) are traditionally the two strongest, and get to send more teams. The United States’ region, Concacaf, typically sends between three and four teams. Asia and Africa are in the same ballpark, whereas Oceania sends the fewest.

This is not a collection of pro teams: you won’t see Nashville SC or the Chicago Fire competing. However, you may see gentlemen from those teams representing their nations. Think of the teams like the olympic basketball squads, for example: LeBron James is a Cleveland Cavalier (or whatever team he can defect to in order to have a better shot to win a championship), but every four years, he wears the Red, White, and Blue of the United States.

International Soccer (the term generally used for competition between national teams, rather than club teams) is a more significant part of the landscape than it is in most other sports with established professional leagues. The World Cup – unlike olympic basketball, to continue the same example – is the biggest, most important event in the sport.

(On the women’s side, by the way, the World Cup takes place on a four-year cycle as well, offset one year later than the men’s edition. Next year’s WWC is hosted in France).

NS203: How does Concacaf Qualifying work?

The United States failed to qualify out of Concacaf. how does that happen? We’ll look at the mechanics of it first before the blame-assigning portions. The confederation includes North and Central America, the Caribbean, and two South American teams. There are 41 total members of Concacaf, but six of them are not FIFA members, and therefore not eligible for the World Cup.

Qualifying out of the confederation is a five-step process, with the lowest-ranked teams in the region taking part in rounds 1-3. The first round includes the bottom 14 teams, playing in seven home-and-home series (random draw), with the winners advancing to round two, the same format with 20 total teams (13 next-lowest ranked teams plus the seven winners), and round three is with 12 teams (teams ranked Nos. 7 and 8 plus the ten winners).

After those rounds, we have the top six teams in the region join, and take on the six who have worked their way through earlier qualifying stages. This round is where Mexico, the United States, and Costa Rica will pretty much always join the competition, with Honduras, Panama, and Jamaica also in the top six for the 2018 edition (though Jamaica, Haiti, and Canada are intermittently in the top six teams in the confederation, as well).

Round four splits the twelve remaining teams into three groups of four, with a double round-robin played within each group. The top two teams in each group’s table after the six games (three points for a win, one point each for a draw, with goal differential breaking any ties). The USA’s group (Group C) consisted of Trinidad and Tobago (remember them – they’ll be back), Guatemala, and St. Vincent-Grenadines. The Americans won the group with 13 points, with a 2-0 loss in Guatemala City and a nil-nil draw in Trinidad the only non-wins. Trinidad was second in the group and also advanced. Mexico and Honduras advanced out of Group A over Canada and El Salvador, while Costa Rica and Panama advanced out of Group B over Haiti and Jamaica.

Round Five is known as “The Hex,” with the six teams advancing to this final stage of qualification placed into a single group, playing home-and-away round robin, with the top three teams qualifying for the World Cup, and No. 4 in the table qualifying for a play-in game against an Asian side.

Long story short, the United States lost (or drew) plenty of games you wouldn’t expect them to, and finished fifth in the table, ahead of only Trinidad. On the final day of qualifying, Oct. 10, 2017, the United States entered play third, behind only Mexico and Costa Rica, and facing confederation minnow Trinidad and Tobago. The USA needed any one of three extremely likely results to come off: Mexico not losing to Honduras, Costa Rica not losing to Panama, or the Americans themselves not losing to Trinidad. All three happened (thanks to phantom goals, an own-goal from USA defender Omar Gonzalez, and all sort of crazy happenings), and so here we are, outside of the 32-team field.

NS346: So who’s to blame?

There’s plenty of blame to go around, several stories breaking down various aspects of that, and a whole lot of soul-searching in the American soccer world in the aftermath. Here are some of the key parties, and we’ll take it back to perhaps an unexpected place: Panama City.

Graham Zusi and Aron Johansson

On the final day of the 2014 Hex, Panama had a chance to qualify for its first-ever World Cup. All they had to do was beat the Americans on home turf, and they would make the inter-continental playoff with a chance to make the final 32. The United States was comfortably qualified, and in fact even a loss to Los Canaleros couldn’t have seen USA finish anywhere but first on the table.

Panama scored an 83rd-minute goal to take a 2-1 lead in Panama City. The team was practically on its way to Brazil 2014. Then, with little need, the Americans score two goals in stoppage time, knocking Panama down to fifth in the Hex and out of the playoff position – and even more frustratingly, giving Mexico the opportunity to qualify through the inter-continental playoff (which it would).

Harming a little guy for no purpose? To put your hated rival into the World Cup? Because of an American attitude that losing even a meaningless game is dishonorable? It’s easy to see why the USMNT lost plenty of its good will with the little guys in the confederation. Of course, I’m mostly joking here (Panama and Trinidad weren’t going to bow and hold the door for the Americans in 2018 if there hadn’t been this situation four years earlier), but it gave Panama added motivation this time around to make its first-ever World Cup, and certainly helped motivate the smaller nations against what has always been a regional power – but now had the evil empire factor to add on.

Jurgen Klinsmann

The former German international (and Germany head coach) was considered one of the top managers in the world after leading Germany to a third-place finish in 2010. He’s also a resident of California, and the combination of “European pedigree” and “institutional knowledge of USA Soccer” (the latter will come up a bit) made him a top candidate.

He was hired in 2011 for the next World Cup cycle. He led the USA to a solid qualifying campaign in 2014, as outlined above, and a Round of 16 exit from the World Cup itself. That’s impressive – though has been unfairly minimized in hindsight – given that he led the team to advance out of the so-called “group of death” and came within a missed sitter in stoppage time from beating Belgium to advance as deep into the World Cup as the Americans had been in modern history.

However, Klinsmann was not known as a tactical genius, and some of his personnel selections for the trip to Brazil (particularly leading off the team’s all-time leading scorer, Landon Donovan, in favor of 18-year old Julian Green and Donovan’s fellow MLS striker Chris Wondolowski, who would ultimately miss the aforementioned sitter against Belgium) began to grate on the personnel. It may be unfair to say he lost his locker room, but certainly he hadn’t built a unified team all working toward one goal.

When his team started qualifying for 2018 with a loss to Mexico in Columbus (which had previously been considered a fortress, particularly for games against Mexico, with every game ending 2-0 – “Dos a Cero” in favor of the United States) by a 2-1 count and then Costa Rica on the road, he was fired.

While Klinsmann wanted to do lots of different things to push the United States forward in the international landscape, some of those ideas backfired (others were successful, or are in the process of being implemented still, etc.), he wasn’t popular among the MLS contingent on his team and in the federation, and he was ultimately let go for the results on the pitch.

Bruce Arena

Klinsmann gets roasted for starting the 2018 Hex poorly, but, uh, his replacement’s results were way, way worse.

Klinsmann lost to the top two teams in the table (and in the first weekend of the Hex). The Costa Rica game was uncompetitive, yes, but on the road. It also came by the time Klinsmann’s firing looked imminent, so there wasn’t a whole lot of positive motivation in the squad.

Arena’s teams:

  • Beat Honduras 6-0 at home
  • Drew Panama on the road
  • Beat Trinidad and Tobago at home
  • Drew Mexico on the road (literally the only good result he got)
  • Lost to Costa Rica at home
  • Drew Honduras on the road
  • Beat Panama 4-0 at home
  • Lost to Trinidad on the road

“If I’d been hired sooner, we wouldn’t have been in this mess” has been Arena’s line since the failure in Trinidad, but it’s utter bullshit. His results were pathetic.

He further fractured a locker room that was already fragile by favoring MLS players over those playing in higher-level leagues (which, like, “having lower-level talent” probably wasn’t great for getting those results, either), and put a trash product on the field. Arena is the single-most responsible person in this whole story.

US Soccer, Soccer United Marketing, Major League Soccer, pay-to-play

There’s a lot about soccer in our country that makes us unique in the world: we’re one of very few nations whose children either play recreationally or have to put up huge sums of money to play on competitive travel teams. That prices out lower-income (and particularly minority) communities, which is obviously a limiter to the talent pool. The United States Soccer Federation doesn’t have the power to prevent clubs from charging players, but certainly hasn’t done its part in subsidizing costs, advancing youth development, etc.

The intertwining between the federation and our top-division league, MLS (through the television rights company SUM, which is owned by the owners of MLS teams and controls domestic TV for the men’s and women’s national teams, the American television rights for the Mexican national team, and more) is uncomfortable for some. It may be considered a necessary evil after IMG sold off the USSF rights for pennies on the dollar prior to the formation of SUM, even if it’s perhaps outgrown its purpose in the country.

Either way, the cozy relationship between USSF and MLS has been cited as a reason MLS retread Arena was considered more desirable than Klinsmann, it’s been accused (mostly by the lunatic fringes of the pro-rel movement, who we refuse to take seriously by rule) of conspiratorially ensuring that Major League Soccer players get preference for USMNT selection as an advertising vehicle for the league, etc.

The mere existence of Major League Soccer is also cited by the same groups as a problem, because there’s no promotion and relegation mechanism, and teams are locked in (like they are in every sport in our country since time immemorial), unlike soccer around the rest of the world. When the missing link between “disband Major League Soccer” or “institute pro-rel” and the third step “qualify for the World Cup” is discovered, that’ll be a first. From my perspective, it’s a non-starter. Pro-rel would be fun from a spectator standpoint, but it’s not germane to discussion of talent development in our country from where I stand.

In the wake of the failure to qualify, federation president Sunil Gulati opted not to run for re-election, a tacit admission (even though he’s overtly denied) that the actions of the federation – in various ways – were responsible for its flagship team not making the World Cup.

Sheer dumb luck

It’s soccer. Things go crazy in weird ways. 99.9% of the time, Omar Gonzalez is not going to score an own-goal against a minnow like Trinidad, and a blast from well outside the box isn’t going to beat a keeper like Tim Howard. Clint Dempsey’s potential equalizer in Trinidad hit a post and rattled out. It sucks. It happens. Italy, Chile, and the Netherlands are among the consistent powers to join us as spectators this time around. Mexico should have been on the outside looking in for the 2014 Cup. You get it: it just happens.

Other unluckiness – a literal goal that didn’t happen propelled Panama past Costa Rica and into the World Cup – plays in, as well. Like the rest of this story, a single thing going wrong isn’t the full explanation.

There’s also bad luck (exacerbated by actions in the federation, the development model in our country, etc.) in terms of personnel: the players who are in the 22-28-year age range are more sparse at a major international caliber than generations before (or since). That should be accounting for the bulk of a World Cup team, but instead the United States had to rely on players much older, or a bit younger, in qualifying. With old, tired legs, and young, inexperienced players… it’s bad luck, but it happens. It would happen less if we were better as a nation in identifying and developing talent.

NS357: The way forward

There’s a major “woe is us” attitude among soccer fans in our country given the failure to qualify. That’s fair: it sucks to not be in the World Cup. However, I’d also contend that it’s overwrought, and this is probably an anomaly.

First of all, there’s new leadership in USSF for the first time since Gulati’s rise in 2006. That federation president Carlos Cordeiro was the vice president under Gulati hasn’t inspired much confidence around the nation, but at the very least, a new perspective is some sort of change (and it’s not the sort of destructive change that would have resulted from Eric Wynalda or Hope Solo winning the election). There has been a bit of structural adjustment to the federation and MNT program since. Hopefully, it includes learning lessons from our past.

Major League Soccer and lower-level soccer continue to boom in our country – Nashville is an obvious example of that – and that can only help with talent identification and development. Higher levels of coaching, pro club-funded academies for youth, and a wider scouting network can only serve to push our country closer to other nations in the world: and we’ve never previously been all that close.

Tomorrow is actually a massive day for the future of American soccer, as well. The combined bid for the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico will go to vote (Morocco and “neither of these” are the other options – if the latter wins, the two current bids would not be reconsidered). Hosting the World Cup in our country, and with two other nations who are at an… interesting geopolitical point in history (our current geopolitical standing, unfortunately, being one of the major expected reasons for countries to vote against the United Bid)… would be a major boost to fan interest, development, and much more.

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Save us, young talented players. Photo by Reto Stauffer (Creative Commons license).

Finally, the next generation of players coming up is very exciting. 19-year old Christian Pulisic is already a world-class player, and led the Hex in goals (five) already as a youngster. Other young Americans playing in top European leagues include 18-year old Timothy Weah (whose father, George, was the FIFA World Player of the Year in 1995) at French superclub Paris Saint-Germain, 19-year old Weston McKennie at Schalke 04 (which finished second in Germany’s Bundesliga ahead of Pulisic’s Borussia Dortmund), and several others.

It’s early to dub it a “golden generation,” but compared to the lost generation ahead of them (which has produced occasional national-teamers in addition to defenders DeAndre Yedlin and John Anthony Brooks, the latter of whom actually grew up in Germany, and forward Bobby Wood, but not the base of talent you’d like to see), the likelihood of a stronger, deeper group is high.

See you in 2022 in… uh, Qatar. Because you know, these FIFA votes are always on the up-and-up.

Where to watch the World Cup in Nashville

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If a Liverpool crowd is any indication, Franklin Abbey may be fairly lit. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Thanks to the wonders of timezones and a World Cup in Russia, games are on early here in Music City. Want to go to a local establishment to watch with fellow fans? Here are the ones opening early.

Note: All of these are on the Soccer Bars in Nashville list – and I also tried some others that weren’t on the list, but none had special hours. Anything not listed here will likely be showing games, but is open regular hours or could not be reached.

The Centennial special hours
10a for Mexico-Germany this Sunday, otherwise by request
Belcourt Taps special hours 24th for England (11a otherwise)
Tailgate Demonbreun special hours Normal hours opening at 11a – Maybe 10 for certain games with nothing specific planned yet
Pastime special hours Haven’t scheduled, but will be opening early
Fleet Street special hours This Thursday, 10am (Russia-Saudi Arabia), 7am Friday (Egypt-Uruguay), 10am Sunday (Mexico-Germany), 7am June 24 (England)
Franklin Abbey special hours UPDATE: Will be open for the vast majority of games, including the 5am France tilt.
Alley Taps special hours
UPDATE: Open for all games starting 10am or later
ADDED: Bar Sovereign special hours Open for all games, focusing on England
ADDED: Plaza Mariachi special hours Open for all games (also: not technically a “bar,” per se.
ADDED: Bavarian Bierhaus special hours Open 8 a.m. June 30, July 1, July 7, July 14. 9 a.m. July 15

For more details on these bars, check out the Soccer Bars in Nashville post.

Pitch Points (also) joins the big leagues

Welcome to Pitch Points: rounding up links of interest in Nashville, US Soccer, and other topics of interest. Don’t forget to follow the site on TwitterFacebook, and now Instagram, where you can always drop links to share in one of these posts.

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Except it says “Cincy” somewhere. Tim Sullivan/For Club and Country

Cincy Soccer Talk (PHRASE COPYRIGHT 2018 FOR CLUB AND COUNTRY). Cincinnati has a lot to gain from getting into MLS before Miami and Nashville. Sounds like a win-win, since Nashville’s interest in joining up for 2019 was approximately zero.

That said, this piece from Cincy Soccer Talk is v. interesting, and certainly something we’ll be watching from Nashville not just for Cincinnati’s own MLS launch, but how it will apply to ours down the road, as well. Bookmark it, y’all.

Sports Illustrated on Cincinnati. How does it affect #SaveTheCrew? Regardless of what anyone says, the answer is “not at all,” because trashman’s desire to move the Crew is based only in his desire to move the Crew: there is no way to make Columbus an appealing final destination to him aside from a $200 million-dollar bribe in the form of a municipally-funded stadium.

Also, since I’ve harped on this regularly… The Detroit media really were clueless all along that their city’s chances of getting an MLS franchise went to zero when their home field situation was announced as Ford Field. How did you not know this all along? Why are you surprised now? How did you not possibly research a topic you wrote about constantly? So strange.

500m talent pool. Sporting Kansas City and other MLS teams are stretching the definition of “homegrown” with the league’s homegrown player rule.

In short, each team has a territory to which it lays claim, and youth players from that area are eligible to be “homegrowns” if they are signed to the MLS side through that team’s academy. The loophole at play here is that there are large portions of the country (including decent soccer-playing areas) that aren’t within any team’s homegrown territory… and kids are joining academies halfway across the continent, living with host families, and earning homegrown status despite not being truly from that club’s range.

I don’t have a problem with it: anything to help 1) talented kids get better coaching earlier, and 2) MLS improve its quality of play with domestic players, is absolutely fine by me. (I also think it’s fine if MLS improves with foreign players, for its own purposes. From a USMNT perspective, domestic players are preferred, obviously).

It’s also relevant to our interests: Tennessee is a state that doesn’t produce a ton of high-level soccer talent (I count just a couple MLS/USL players from the Volunteer State, and my research finds not very many at Division-1 colleges in comparison to similarly-sized states, either). Certainly, we’d like that to improve – and expect it to with an MLS team headed to town – but Nashville SC may need to get creative in filling its academy in the future, as well.

I’m also interested to see how this “MLS 2 sides play in USL D3” thing works out. I think it’s a better fit in the long-term – as it relates to developing players, at least. Also, uh, “a sign of giving up on finding a USL partner” is not a negative.

Overall this does have a bit of the feeling as if the club has failed at several attempts and decided to go in-house as a last resort.

“They failed at something worse, so they’re doing something better instead” is a win. Except inasmuch as I guess it means your front office might be difficult to deal with? That’s not something that affects fans on a day-to-day basis. Operating your own B-team is objectively better in basically every way (the only downside is that you have to pay for it), especially given that a USL affiliate’s primary job is to win (as opposed to the owned & operated teams, which are designed to develop).

Geographic spread of your #brand is also objectively a good thing. Would choosing to put a hypothetical MLS B-side in, say, Franklin mean that Nashville chose a bad location in the city for the A-side? Of course not. It just means they’re in more places – and in fact, I would view it as a failure to waste the opportunity to spread the brand if they just had it in the same area.

So it doesn’t matter that we didn’t qualify? Cool. Writing in The Guardian, Beau Dure writes that the United States will never win the World Cup (though it’s immediately hedged with “not any time soon,” which has a different meaning, but I’ll let it slide).

While many of his points are valid – we do indeed start way behind the European (and South American) powers from an infrastructure and desire standpoint, too many folks are interested in suing their way into relevance than acting in the interest of the good of the game, etc. – I don’t disagree with the end product. “Boise State can’t win the Fiesta Bowl because they started way after Oklahoma” is essentially the point here… and we all know what happened in 2007 (and against TCU in 2009). There’s something to be said for investment trumping all.

Are we headed in the right direction now? Maybe not. Are we headed in a better direction after the USSF presidential election? Probably not as forcefully as some wanted, but I think so. There’s plenty more work to do, and it will require a lot more people to become more dedicated to a cause, sure. But “never” (or “not any time soon”) is still extreme to me.

The US has gotten out of the group stage in four of the past six World Cups (since the announcement of MLS, which I would contend is when the game changed), and when you’re in a knockout tournament, anything can happen. They were a Wondo sitter – yes, in a game they were dominated – away from matching their best performance since 1930 just four years ago.

Feels to me like missing the World Cup has (understandably) damaged folks emotionally, and that emotion – which has carried over into coverage of some of the NASL litigation, etc. – is coloring a bit of folks’ perception of the upside here.

Speaking of missing the World Cup, I haven’t read this piece yet, but have seen only positive remarks about it. Probably tearing into it immediately after posting this story, in fact. (And I’ll also be posting a Soccer University piece for a more 1,000-foot view on missing the World Cup next week).

 

 

Etc.: Since I never talk West Ham even though they’re in the Twitter avi: Manuel Pellegrini is a huge grab as manager, IMO. … Sign up to support one of the SGs’ Prideraiser campaigns. … Surely this would all be fixed with #ProRel4USA. … HOK is one of the architecture firms vying for Nashville’s MLS stadium, and one of their top designers has retired. … I wish I could say the lede to this was just a “some idiot is racist” story, rather than a “problem with US soccer” story, but alas it’s both, and both are inextricably linked in our country. … USL fluff on Brandon Allen, and from overseas on Liam Doyle.

US Soccer documentation: Nashville could go MLS in 2019

Nashville SC Nashville Fairgrounds stadium
See? It’s right there!

This could be safely chalked up to “over-promise to land the World Cup” but there’s certainly an interesting point in the documentation provided to FIFA by the joint bid between the soccer federations of the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Nashville could join MLS as early as next season.

The city was recently awarded the 24th expansion team in Major League Soccer (MLS), Nashville SC, which will start playing in the league in 2019. Prior to the arrival of Nashville’s MLS team, the city had various football teams; the most notable were the Nashville Metros who played from 1989 until 2012, and Nashville FC, who played in the National Premier Soccer League (NPSL) from 2013 to 2016.

Again, this seems to go against the preference of the club and ownership (though NSC’s primary owner, John Ingram, is on the Nashville bid committee). It’s more likely a matter of making the city appear slightly more attractive to FIFA – and perhaps to the joint bid group should they win the World Cup.

A bit of detail on the future MLS stadium and training ground are also included, though nothing ground-breaking.

Future MLS Stadium: Housing a natural grass, professional-grade field, this future MLS Nashville stadium is expected to be host to both professional and international soccer games during its lifetime.

Future MLS Nashville SC Training Facilities: Still in the process of construction, the Nashville SC Training Facilities will be grass fields that enable the professional football players and competitive youth academies to train on pitches of the highest quality.

I’ve reached out to the club for comment. We’ll see if there’s a response. It is worth noting that, as polished as the document appears, such mistakes as spelling names of bid committee members incorrectly (former US Attorney General and current Belmont law professor Alberto Gonzales) indicates that the information therein is certainly not to be taken as gospel.

UPDATE 10:31 AM: Comment from Nashville SC spokesperson: “The club doesn’t have anything to announce.”

UPDATE 11:11 AM: Nashville Business Journal gets a statement of clarification from the United Bid Committee.

Pitch Points is renamed Lebo Golazo

Cranking out a Pitch Points before this afternoon’s Cincinnati content, because some of this stuff will be a little stale once we’re focused on FCC.

More like Lebo Golazo, am I right folks? Bad pun and a GIF:

Lebo Moloto Nashville SC Orlando City SC golazo gif clubandcountry.wordpress.com

Meanwhile, that guy’s team is 75/1 to win a USL title. Anybody trying to pool some betting money (kidding! I’m way too scared of losing money to bet on sports).

Justin Meram. This article came out within a couple hours of the last Pitch Points I published, which is unfortunate because it’s great. Former Michigan Wolverine and lifelong American Justin Meram on choosing to represent the country of his parents’ birth, Iraq:

It was the first time I could sing that anthem surrounded by the fans who live and breathe for the national team. And I didn’t just see one Iraqi flag as I had during my club games, I saw dozens and dozens, as well as scarves decked out in our colors of red, black and white. As I sang, I could hear thousands of others singing with pride and passion.

Our team is nicknamed the Lions of Mesopotamia, and as we stood on that field in Basra, I felt like one for the first time.

This is important in various contexts, not least of which is understanding the thought processes of eligible dual-national players. Obviously this comes into play when it comes to conversations about Jonathan Gonzalez (which, like, let it go, folks. I’ve just started catching up on the Max and Herc podcast and it might be literally the only topic they ever talk about. It’s over, move on) and other dual-nationals lost.

When he retires from MLS – Meram was traded from Columbus Crew to Orlando City this season, and has a few years left in him – I would see huge value in including Meram on a US Soccer Federation dual-national committee (that I’ve previously proposed) both as a recruiting tool for those players, but also helping folks understand the thought process and the decisions of those who choose not to play for USMNT/WNT.

Joint World Cup bid in jeopardy. And you’ll never guess why. The world we live in: the US Soccer Federation has to say “don’t worry, this moron will be six years out of office by the time the 2026 World Cup takes place” to take the United States out of “we are North Korea”-level international reputation. FIFA – FIFA! – sees the president of the United States as too corrupt (or just generally detestable) to allow our nation to host a sporting event. Verily, America has been Made Great Again.

Meanwhile, talented young kids using soccer to go to college on scholarship are getting deported for… reasons. …and we’ll end the potentially political conversation there. Let’s just say it’s understandable why basically every country outside of the Western Hemisphere (and likely many within it) won’t bat an eyelash about doing anything they can to vote against the United States.

Development: a play in multiple acts. The US Soccer Federation has built a national training center. It’s been in the works for a hot min, but now completed. Will be a good tool in developing coaches… probably shouldn’t be super-relevant in (direct) player development on the grand scheme.

Speaking of which, read this from The Ringer on Christian Pulisic’s initial move to Germany. As I’ve stated in the past, there’s not a problem with players developing in USL/MLS just like there’s not a problem with their heading to Europe (duh on the latter point). Saying one or the other is the only reasonable path is how we get into situations like missing the World Cup. More options is better.

How about developing franchises? Depending on how it comes off, Chattanooga FC’s summit next weekend could be a pretty positive step in growing the game in terms of club opportunities. Yes, I’m well aware of the bad blood between supporters groups from Chattanooga and Nashville, but… there’s a lot to be said for Chattanooga appearing to do everything the right way as a community club.

US Soccer General Manager. US Soccer CEO Dan Flynn met with media earlier this week. The topic? The new National Team GM positions (one for men, a separate one for the women). His vision… is bad.

According to Flynn, the GM will be responsible for “hiring and firing senior team head coaches,” building “an integrated national team staff,” managing the “day-to-day environment” of the senior team, monitoring the player pool and integrating new players. The GMs will report directly to Flynn and not to newly elected US Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro.

Somebody whose core function is to hire and fire a coach is not what the national teams need – maybe it’s what Carlos Cordeiro needs to take some of the pressure off his extremely high-stress job of being USSF President.

What USSF needs is a GM for each national team program, not just team. Some of the tasks – e.g. “monitoring the player pool” – are more program-oriented than individual team-oriented, but things like that should be the most important duties, not the single hire of a national team coach (and presumably assisting him or her with the evaluation and hiring of assistants and support staff). Recruiting dual-nationals, helping make sure youth players get into good club/development situations, etc. …these should not be

Having GMs is a big step forward. This vision for what the GM role entails is at least a similarly-sized step back.

The GMs will be part of a larger technical structure focusing on those senior teams—“a brain trust,” Flynn called it—and won’t be directing all of U.S. Soccer’s on-field initiatives.

“In an indirect way, those general managers will have input on what we’re doing on the player development side,” Flynn said.

That certainly doesn’t inspire confidence. Nor does USSF’s recent track record.

Etc.: Are you a talented female player over 17? Try out to play WPSL this Summer. Nashville Rhythm tryouts that were previously rained out have been re-scheduled for this weekend. … Some MLS storylines, including #MLS2Nashville. … Want to learn a ton about every MLS team? You’re in luck. … I’m down with Ranting Soccer Dad‘s National B-team idea.