If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.
This is an adage that many of us have heard in our lifetime and there is certainly some truth to it.
Even in the era of Twitter where treating others like the substance at the bottom one’s shoe is commonplace society still generally works at its best when people aren’t nasty towards one another.
Even still it can be difficult at times to find something nice to say in a difficult situation. That is precisely where we find ourselves with the United States Men’s National Team.
After two weeks of lacklustre attendances and a difficult loss to Colombia in the opener of the Copa America Centenario U.S. Soccer have had a pretty tough week.
Whereas in the past where supporters would put aside their differences with the Football Association for the win something new has entered the U.S. Soccer mindset: indifference.
Now one could say that this is a syndrome that is not just limited to the United States. All teams and countries go through down periods. England, Netherlands, Spain, heck even Brazil and Argentina have had rough patches.
But there’s a difference with U.S. Soccer and England: England has won a World Cup. The English Premier League is one of the most lucrative sports organizations in the world.
Their players are on McDonalds advertisements, have multi-million dollar deals with Sneaker companies, and can go anywhere in the world and be recognised.
U.S. Soccer and MLS have not reached that point. So why is their the malaise, this cynicism with the team? It certainly does not seem to exist with the women’s team whose success perhaps has helped shroud the ugly battle over equal pay.
But even that issue has not done much to mollify the excitement and passion for the game that sect of U.S. Soccer supporters.
At least in the short-term two individuals seem to be the cause of this depressed nature: USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and MLS Commissioner Don Garber.
Whether it is fair or not to point the finger at the two for every single problem that is wrong with U.S. Soccer is debatable. They are the two public faces of their respective organizations and aside from USSF President Sunil Gulati wield the most power in the country.
From Klinsmann the problem seems to be the failure to live up to the hype. When he came in to the fold at US Soccer much was expected of him.
Yet after six years of trying and what little success (round of 16 appearance at the 2014 World Cup, Quarterfinal run at the 2015 U-20 World Cup) he has had seems to be cancelled out by great amounts of failure (not qualifying for two consecutive Olympics, failing to make it out of Group Stages at the U-17 and U-20 World Cups).
That he continues to hammer youth soccer and the cartel that likes to pat themselves on the back is interesting considering that he is likely a loss or two away from losing his job.
What is interesting is that the American supporters that hate Klinsmann also do not care for how players are developed here.
One has to wonder if a coach like D.C. United’s Ben Olsen or Los Angeles Galaxy’s Bruce Arena spoke out on the quagmire that is academy soccer here in the U.S. if they would receive the same response.
Klinsmann’s tinkering has also seemed to tick people off.
Ten years ago, while attending college, yours truly and his friends would make one beer bets on who could come closest to accurately naming the USMNT starting eleven roster.
While 100 percent might not have ever happened a respectable 90-95 percent was quite common.
Now it is a cavalcade of players coming in and out of the roster. That lack of organisation has hurt not just the team on the pitch but also in the stands. Although most supporters will never admit it everyone has their favorite player. It’s human nature.
But without that level of consistency supporters lose interest.
Ticket prices and general stadium experience also play into this shift in attitude. Over the past few years ticket prices for Men’s Soccer matches have steadily increased to the point where supporters, and more importantly families, are being priced out.
Going to a USMNT match used to feel like a can’t-miss event. Now, because of the prices and the more friendly confines of local bars and pubs the stadium experience has turned into a can miss.
Where U.S. Soccer is hurting itself right now is with the children and the families. Supporters will always support their national team if for no other reason than it is good place to meet other people and watch a game.
But children and families will tune out the national team if other options such as the English Premier League or even the National Basketball Association become available. The USMNT no longer hold a monopoly over the soccer audience.
So can U.S. Soccer turn this ship around? In the short-term it seems doubtful. Klinsmann is very much committed to his philosophy and has proven that he has the support of U.S. Soccer.
That he has taken on U.S. Soccer’s BFF in MLS and the golden child of American soccer in Landon Donovan and survived should tell everyone something.
This is not going to end until a tremendous situation happens (like the USMNT not qualifying for the World Cup) Klinsmann is not leaving until he wants to.
In the long-term there is some pause for hope. Klinsmann, Gulati, and Garber will be gone at some point and given the increased interest in the game there will be chances to get supporters back.
The older generation that has also run U.S. Soccer is also leaving either due to age or fear of being implicated in the escalating FIFA scandal.
A newer generation of leaders in the game will come who are not scarred from the end of the NASL and not built-in with a negative stereotype of American soccer.
It will take time and things do have the chance to change for the USMNT. The question is will the fans come back with them?