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American soccer needs changes, from players to coaches to its president

Jonathan Tannenwald, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Soccer

If you're trying to make sense of the U.S. men's soccer team's stunning failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, start here:

What you saw in Tuesday's loss at Trinidad & Tobago represents just a fraction of the problem.

You could write a book the size of an encyclopedia on the reasons why. Here are a few points that should stand out even for fans who only watch soccer during the World Cup.

1. The players aren't good enough. Major League Soccer won't want to hear this, but it needs to. The league's top American stars have failed to deliver in the biggest international games of recent times. Yes, that means Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Tim Howard.

Those players know it. They know they lost at home to Mexico and Costa Rica, and gave up two first-half goals to a bunch of Trinidadian prospects in a game that only needed a tie.

But it's not just those players. It's the rest of the talent pool, too. There aren't enough good American strikers to knock Altidore and Bobby Wood off the top of the depth chart. There aren't enough good playmakers to consistently break down walls of opponents. (This includes Darlington Nagbe, who has endless skill but has repeatedly not stepped up in big moments.)

There aren't enough good defenders to lock down the back line. John Brooks is one, yes, but he's injured (and he doesn't play in MLS). Where are the rest?

And no American goalkeeper has proven himself to be truly superior to 38-year-old Tim Howard and 33-year-old Brad Guzan.

A generation of young players is coming. You already know Christian Pulisic, of course. Watch out for Weston McKennie, 19, at Germany's Schalke 04. Josh Sargent, 17, just signed for Germany's Werder Bremen after starring for U.S. youth national teams. Quality prospects in MLS include New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams, 18, and FC Dallas goalkeeper Jesse Gonzalez, 22.

The U.S. won't play games of consequence again until at least 2019. Let those youngsters take the reins today, and let them banish this year to the history books sooner rather than later.

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