Neil W. Blackmon
Bruce Arena resigned as manager of the United States Men’s National Team Friday morning, three days after a crushing qualifying defeat in Trinidad and Tobago saw the Americans eliminated from the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
“When I took the job last November, I knew there was a great challenge ahead, probably more than most people could appreciate. Everyone involved in the program gave everything they had for the last 11 months and, in the end, we came up short. No excuses. We didn’t get the job done, and I accept responsibility,” Arena said in a statement released through US Soccer.
Hours later, on a conference call with assembled US journalists, Sunil Gulati called the failure to qualify for the World Cup a “big disappointment personally,” but declined to follow Arena’s example and resign.
“I take full responsibility,” Gulati said. “But I don’t plan to resign and it is not the right day for me to talk about the future presidency.”
Having failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 31 years, Gulati’s comments that now isn’t the correct time to talk about his future as the leader of the organization tax the credulity of the credulous. If not now, when?
Longtime US Soccer writer Franco Panizo later asked Gulati why he would not resign, noting that in most countries in the world, following this type of failure, a president surely would. Gulati defiantly rejected the premise of the question.
“The premise is not correct. Some do, but certainly not most,” Gulati said, suggesting that coaches would, but not federation Presidents. He then alleged that his continued leadership as US Soccer President was necessary to submit the tri-country World Cup bid from the US, Canada and Mexico in 2026. “We have a lot of things on our agenda including a World Cup bid that is due in March and a decision is due in June and it isn’t the case that most Presidents around the world (resign).” This assertion is of course false- Gulati could easily steer and navigate the World Cup bid outside the confines of the US President’s office.
The remainder of the call touched a wide-ranging number of subjects, from whether Gulati would do anything differently in hindsight (he would, but refused to say what) to what type of internal reforms will be evaluated. On that question, Gulati was more candid and humble:
“I have certain thoughts (about what the USSF can do differently) but we don’t have all the answers and will look at everything,” Gulati said. “We have far more resources than we’ve ever had and our number one priority has always been player development. We will take a deep dive into process and get some external help but everything will be looked at within the system. Failing to qualify is not acceptable to us, to our board, to our fans.”
Gulati said a host of issues will be discussed, including the pay-to-play system, which he said is more about crafting solutions to lessen its slanted impact on the underprivileged.
“It would be great to say no one playing soccer will pay anything, but that’s not going to happen in the current environment and it doesn’t happen in other countries. That’s a misnomer,” Gulati said. “But we have to make some changes. We have to make sure kids aren’t prohibited from playing if they can’t afford it. As things become more expensive, where there is a roadblock, MLS through its programs, the academies through their programs, are doing some of that stuff and we need to do it on a deeper level.”
Nevertheless, Gulati offered a fierce defense of the idea he lacks a public mandate to continue to lead the federation, hailing the openness and transparency of US Soccer’s structure.
“We have a public mandate and a legal mandate,” Gulati said. “(We have) Requirements with all sorts of representation. US Soccer is a membership based organization. We added fans to our constituents for the first time. That’s a first. I can’t think of another organization that does that. It’s a stake, not a controlling one or fifty percent or anything like that, but it is a stake and I don’t know any other NGB around the world that does that. We have independent directors; I don’t know any other that has that. We have athletes who can provide input; I don’t any others that have that. We are far less insular than any other NGB organization around the world.”
Gulati, should he choose to seek reelection, would run in February.