Late Tuesday evening, the word “embarrassing” was getting bandied around quite a bit on the Internet. That kind of thing will happen when the U.S. men’s national soccer team gets knocked out of World Cup qualifying in a desultory loss to Trinidad and Tobago.
You know, the same Trinidad and Tobago that was very much in last place in the “Hex,” the six-team CONCACAF qualifying group out of which Americans had every expectation of seeing their side emerge. After all, the United States had not failed to make the World Cup since 1986, and it went into Tuesday knowing that a win would send it to Russia for the 2018 tournament, or at least a draw would likely get it into a playoff against either Australia or Syria, both of which would be underdogs.
Instead, the USMNT gave up two first-half goals and couldn’t complete a second-half comeback, falling to the Soca Warriors, 2-1. The stunning result, to a team that had gone 1-8 in qualifying play, caused heartbreak for U.S. fans, sent shock waves through the U.S. Soccer system and left Taylor Twellman irate.
A former USMNT player and elite MLS scorer, Twellman is now a soccer analyst for ESPN, and he used his platform to engage in an extended rant just after the loss. The 37-year-old, a St. Louis native who played in college for the Maryland Terrapins before turning professional after two seasons, began his animated remarks by saying the debacle couldn’t just be pinned on former USMNT head coach Juergen Klinsmann or current coach Bruce Arena.
“As a whole, U.S. Soccer is not prepared. They have not done a good enough job of getting this group ready to play,” Twellman said, noting that the U.S. has failed to qualify for the past two Olympics, for which under-23 squads are used.
“By the way, as an ex-player, every single one of those players? Nightmares, for the rest of their lives, because this is an utter embarrassment,” he told Bretos. “With the amount of money that is in Major League Soccer and in this sport, you can’t get a draw, a tie, against Trinidad? Max, you don’t deserve to go to the World Cup.”
In his criticism of the players, Twellman echoed comments by Alexi Lalas, another former USMNT member who has become a soccer analyst on TV. During a telecast of an MLS game in September, Lalas noted the U.S.’s difficulties in Hex play, and he called the team “a bunch of soft, underperforming, tattooed millionaires.”
For his part, Bretos told his Twitter followers Tuesday, “If you are an American soccer fan, be angry, scream from the hilltops, this should never happen.”
Twellman did not need the anchor’s encouragement to be angry, telling Bretos in a rising voice, “If this failure does not wake up everyone from U.S. Soccer to Major League Soccer, from pay-to-play to broadcasters, to everything, then we’re all insane, because the definition of insanity is doing the exact same thing, knowing the result.
“And if we don’t change it … then what are we doing? What’s the point? Because that should have never happened, with the billion dollars-plus that is going into Major League Soccer and youth development, that should have never happened, and it did, and every single person should look themselves in the mirror, and by the way, that’s including myself. I’m part of U.S. Soccer, I played for the program.”
After Bretos said that the “gloves are off at this point,” in terms of the criticism certain to cascade upon U.S. Soccer, Twellman replied, “You and I have talked about this off-camera, well, guess what — I see that little red light, and it’s on, and I’m going to bring it up right now.
“The gloves should have been off years ago, and we should have been having real criticism,” Twellman said. He noted that in the wake of the USMNT’s performance in the 2014 World Cup, in which it reached the knockout stage in Brazil, the “discussion” of the team involved its chances against the heavyweight likes of Argentina, Belgium and Colombia, making Tuesday’s result all the more disappointing.
“Are you kidding me? We can’t beat Trinidad?” the analyst exclaimed, mocking the idea that the soggy field on which the visiting Americans were forced to play should have posed any sort of impediment to success. “What are we doing? What are we doing?!”
Twellman and Bretos were hardly alone in being upset by the U.S.’s loss to easily the worst team in its group, in a game that had the greatest of implications for moving on to perform on the sport’s ultimate stage. At least many TV viewers, plus more who saw the clip online, could take comfort in knowing that frustrations had been vented on their behalf, and then some, on ESPN’s national platform.
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