The 2018 World Cup failure was the best thing that happened to USMNT
Shortly after Tim Weah woke up on Saturday morning, a day after the U.S. national team’s 2-0 victory over Mexico in World Cup qualifying, he found a text message waiting for him.
“I just wanted to write to you to let you know that you were really good yesterday and I’m so proud of how you’ve come in your career,” he began. “Your time has come and you have worked hard for it and I am happy for you. “
The writer was Dave Sarachan, the coach who gave Weah his first cap with the national team and then saw him score his first goal and get his first assist. And Weah wasn’t the only one. During Sarachan’s 12 months as interim coach of the USA team, he offered a record 23 players, including Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Zack Steffen and Antonee Robinson, their international debuts. Six of those players started against Mexico.
With the exception of Gregg Berhalter, the current manager, few have done more to shape this national team than Sarachan, who will watch the qualifying game against Jamaica on Tuesday from his living room in Omaha, not to say forgotten.
Which suits him well.
“I know the work I did with my staff that year,” he said. “It was really almost impossible. And yet, I’m glad we’ve identified many that are now a part of things. This is what I like the most.
The United States go into Tuesday’s game leading the eight-team World Cup qualifying tournament on goal differential, but they will miss two big chunks in McKennie, who is suspended due to the build-up of cards yellow, and defenseman Miles Robinson, who drew a red card in the Mexico game.
Construction on the road that brought the team here began in 2017, three days after the United States failed to qualify for the last World Cup, when Bruce Arena stepped down as coach. Sarachan, his best assistant with the Galaxy and the national team, replaced him, inheriting an aging and dysfunctional roster.
But without a World Cup to prepare, Sarachan was able to tear off the foundations and start over.
“There was no one at US Soccer to lead me in saying, ‘Here’s where I think we should be going with this,'” he recalls. “It was a blank canvas, and honestly, it was a no-brainer to start having these young guys.
“We are not Germany or France. We are the United States. [We’ve] have to rebuild, and we have to see these guys and give them the experience so that in the future they are not confused when entering the pitch in a qualification.
This was not the case, with the United States rising to the top of the standings despite 26 players making their qualifying debuts in the past two months. The Arena roster used in Trinidad was on average 29 and a half years old; The one Berhalter will use on Tuesday has under-24 averages, making him the youngest in American football history.
Compare that with Mexico, a team the United States has beaten three times since June. Mexico had the second oldest team at the 2018 World Cup and, unlike the United States, they tried to rebuild on the fly.
It didn’t go well.
In retrospect, missing the World Cup in 2018 created an opportunity for the United States, as it did for Italy. The Italians also embarked on a rebuilding project after failing to qualify for Russia, and four years later they won the European Championship while achieving a 37-game unbeaten streak.
“You can think of it as a good thing and a bad thing,” Weah said. “It was a good thing because it gave us enough time to recruit new guys and build a new team. Start at the bottom.
“And that’s what we’ve done.”
The rebuild wasn’t just for the roster, however. Three months after the loss in Trinidad that barred the Americans from reaching the World Cup, Sunil Gulati was replaced as president after 12 years, sparking a transition in which three people would lead the federation over the next 26 month.
“The restart, the change of staff from the executive level to the team, it had to happen. And the trigger was the failure to go to Russia, ”said Sarachan, who is now coach of the Puerto Rican national team. “As much as it was painful, it opened the door to the next cycle.
“It’s never a good thing to miss the World Cup. But I think it accelerated the mantra of “OK, change is important, top to bottom.” “”
So while Sarachan’s record hasn’t been great in his 12 head-to-head matches – he has won three, beating Paraguay, Bolivia and Mexico – the work he has done has helped the team. national team to rise from the ashes of their worst defeat and may have paved the way for some. of his greatest victories. And Berhalter continued, giving 49 players their international debuts while becoming the fastest 30-game coach in U.S. history, going 30-7-5 since replacing Sarachan.
“We have come a long way in the past two years,” said Christian Pulisic, one of the three remaining players on the team that lost in Trinidad. “But that doesn’t mean it’s time to be complacent and think, ‘Oh, we’re the best.’ It’s just about continuing, really.
“We are on the right track right now and the future is bright,” he said.
A few hours later, he picked up his phone and texted the man who had put him on this path.
“Thank you very much Coach Dave,” he wrote to Sarachan. “I owe you everything and I will always be grateful for everything you have done for me.”
US Soccer could say the same.