U.S. Soccer fails to qualify for World Cup for first time since 1986

Stu Holden and Alexi Lalas join Colin Cowherd and Jason Whitlock to talk about the USMNT.

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- What's your reaction, Whitlock?

- You know, this morning I was out running errands. And I was listening to your radio show, and Lexi was on. And my original thoughts were about we fired Klinsmann basically halfway through the season or whatever, and that never works, you know? The Cleveland Cavaliers fired their coach, and Dave Blatt and Tyronn Lue won a championship, but that rarely happens. When you fire your coach, that's pretty much an indication you don't have the right team, right system in place.

But then I heard Lexi on your show talk about the lack of leadership, the lack of integrity, the lack of character. I was like, wow, this team sounds like a reflection of American culture right now. We have a leadership crisis pervasive throughout this country. And it's not shocking that our systems are breaking down. Even in the sports world, we have a bad system, a lack of leadership, a lack of vision pervasive throughout the country. And so, our soccer team is a reflection. We got what I think we deserve.

- Well, I mean we played great against Panama. And then in a high school stadium, we can't beat Trinidad and Tobago. There's a lack of consistency. That always alarms me. Whether the Patriots win or lose I get the same effort every week. Same with the Spurs. They're not going to win titles.

What bothers me about US soccer is I truly believe this is the most talented team we've had. Now obviously, Tim Howard and Dempsey are near the end. But Bobby Wood and Pulisic and an older Jozy Altidore, John Brooks, Jeff Cameron, I'm like, wow, we've got multiple players who I think can play internationally. And yet, we're almost less consistent than we were eight years, 10 years ago. So that's, to me, there's a system issue.

I don't think it's a lack of talent. I watched us play Panama. We were brilliant. We were world class. Five days later in a high school stadium, we got three good legitimate chances to score. Didn't hit on any of them. I'm just concerned about-- when I see inconsistency at a company I work for, with a team, with a president, I'm concerned about that. I don't see consistency of product.

JASON WHITLOCK: Patriots have a great foundation and a great system. You can plug anybody in and you get a consistent effort. We don't have that in soccer.

- Do we?

- How does it reflect the culture? Is that what you're saying?

JASON WHITLOCK: Yeah. I believe American culture-- I believe we have a leadership problem in America, and it's pervasive throughout everything that we do in America. That's really big picture, but that's the way-- when I listened to you, I was like, damn, he sounds like he's talking about America. And our soccer team is a reflection of America.

- Well, first off, I agree that this is a team full of talented individuals. I think what we saw was the lack of consistency through this campaign showed us that this was, while a talented group of individuals, not a very good team. And it's not always the best players that you put together that makes the best team.

I woke up this morning-- I'm sure like Stu and like many people out there-- it was painful. It was painful. It was embarrassing. It was sad. It was disappointing. This team failed themselves because of that talent. They failed their sport. And they failed their country. And it doesn't mean that they aren't good people. It doesn't mean they can't go on to do good things.

But that lack of leadership. And that lack of leadership that I think showed up at different times. Lack of personality. Lack of character. Lack of identity as to what this team is. I think ultimately that did them in.

But there is nobody to blame but Bruce Arena and these players. You can blame it on the system all you want. You can blame it on the soccer gods. You can blame it on other teams. No, it's the players that failed to live up to the talent that they have, because they should have beaten Trinidad and Tobago. The United States should be there last next summer, and they didn't get the job done.

COLIN COWHERD: What is our identity?

STUART HOLDEN: And that's actually what I was going to go back to with what Alexi was saying, and also what you were saying about the leadership. What really struck me with Bruce Arena's comments after the game was a lack of accountability for what just happened, and saying we're OK. We can continue on the path that we're doing. We're building a great system. We have some exciting youth players coming through.

But to your question, what is our identity? What is the identity and the message from the top to the bottom? How are we scouting players? What does the developmental system look like?

Now, they have made strides in coaching. And they're starting to put these developmental academies in MLS and all around. But we are missing so many different players throughout the youth systems that then make their way up, and know what it is to represent the United States. Because, Lexi, I know when you put that shirt on and you stand there hand over the heart it's some of the best feelings that you've ever had. I don't necessarily see that with some of these players now in this team.

JASON WHITLOCK: Let me stop you because I want to follow up on your narrative, because I've been following your commentary. "Tattooed pampered millionaires." Those were your words. And that rings true to me too. And if you look across American sports, that's what I see-- tattooed pampered millionaires, who are soft and don't-- again, you just talked about putting your hand over your heart, and the pride you take in representing your country, and maybe that's missing.

And are you not looking at our sports world? And guys don't want to stand up for the national anthem. It's pervasive throughout American sports culture. It's a reflection of where this society is right now. That's way big picture.

- But soccer's always been disparate, where you have players-- some are in MLS, some go overseas. It is a different culture than the NFL, where you go to Ohio State, and then you come from the Big 10 and you go to the NFL. Soccer is a world game.

- The pampering and the tattoos are the same across all sports.

ALEXI LALAS: We sound like a bunch of old men-- get off our lawn and all that kind of stuff. So it's all relative. So that is the new norm, all right? It's not that I disagree with you. This generation, these players that were out there on that field tonight have been given everything. I would love them to have been playing in the '80s or grown up at different times, and seen what we had.

Now, I don't begrudge them that. As a matter of fact, I'm incredibly proud that this generation out there has all of these resources and all of these things that we didn't have back in the day. But with that comes responsibility and a recognition.

And you know, when I was critical of this team, it was not necessarily telling them something they don't know. But I was saying, you know what? In this moment, you have a responsibility. Maybe you more so than anybody, because of what you've been given. And we expect things from you. And do not waste this opportunity.

And what we have done, all right? Is a huge body blow and a disservice to the American soccer culture out there. Because the United States men's team will not be in that World Cup next summer, and that is a platform that we cannot afford to waste.

- You know the feistiest player, though, is Pulisic. He is constantly in the official's face. He is constantly-- like we can say what we want, but he's their greatest skilled player. Dempsey is their legend. Howard perhaps globally. But when I see Christian, I see a guy that absolutely cares. I don't see it from Bradley. I don't see it from Jozy Altidore. I think the young star-- I love him. I wish I had more of his demeanor.

STUART HOLDEN: And, Colin, if you turned that game on yesterday, you had no idea of the circumstance. And you were watching 10, 15 minutes. Would you have known that the United States had the World Cup berth on the line in that game?

- No, you wouldn't have.

- You would not have. And that comes down to complacency. And this the United States soccer team, over the past three years, their best games have been when their backs have been against the wall, against Colombia in Copa America, against Guatemala, against Honduras, against Panama the other night.

And then it's all of a sudden, take the foot off the gas. Our mentality is that we're just going to cruise through to the next round. And there's nobody there. There's nobody I look around that team that says, hey, we're going to cross this finish line. There is no complacency. This is our identity. We need to get through. This is the message from above, and we are going to drive this team forward. I don't see that.

- Just a question if you're a die hard soccer fan. The MLS, isn't it better served if you want to be great in football, you send your kids to America, right? In medicine, we have the greatest hospitals on average. Universities, the Ivy League-- the world sends their kids to us, right? Wouldn't we be better served sending our 16-year-old soccer prodigies overseas? Is the MLS helping or hurting our young players?

- The MLS is helping us, OK? And by the way, we are, to a certain extent, the architects of our own demise. Because if you see who scored the goals against the US and who scored last night, it's a lot of MLS players. So in having this MLS, Major League Soccer, here and having them be successful-- also, a lot of these Central American countries that in the past weren't great have had players that get that type of experience.

Now, you can be successful and you can star in a World Cup, whether you're playing in MLS or whether you're playing overseas. Are there opportunities overseas that at times give you an advantage here or there? Sure. But Landon Donovan, nobody complained about MLS when he was running around starring for the United States, when Frankie Hejduk years ago, or when DaMarcus Beasley was running around, when these guys were MLS players.

I know it's easy to blame MLS. And I'm not saying that MLS is perfect, but I don't think that MLS is the problem. The system that we talk about here, I don't know what the fix is for the system, because I'm a little confused as to what you mean by changing the system here.

STUART HOLDEN: As far as what? The development within the kids? When I look at it, I think that-- especially within minority communities-- and when you look at youth soccer and the pay to play model that we have, it becomes an upper echelon sport. It becomes a rich kids sport. And you miss out on some of the players that are playing in urban communities and not in suburbia, because they don't have the money to play it.

And we don't have the scouting systems now that pick up those kids, the kids that fall through the cracks. These immense athletes that we lose the NBA, to NFL, to baseball, because they don't have the same opportunity that I think are afforded to other people.

ALEXI LALAS: So who pays for the change?

STUART HOLDEN: US Soccer! Alexi, US Soccer has 150 million in the bank! The federation is better off than it has ever been in its history. Now, there is a system in place to put some of that money into communities. They're building fields within the cities. But they're still, in my opinion, not a good enough dispersion of that money throughout the communities to where we can capture that talent.

- But somebody has to pay for not having pay for play.

- Money shouldn't be the problem. Soccer, some of the poorest places in the world are great at soccer.

- His argument, I think, a little bit is they want to keep it among the wealthy and the rich. And Gulati, the president, he could become more desperate. He's another guy-- there's nothing wrong with the system. Nothing to see here. He and Bruce Arena, a fish rots at the head. The head of this doesn't sound very strong to me.

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