Barring any individual or group ticket purchases, the United States soccer team will not be attending next summer’s World Cup. The general consensus places a good deal of the blame for on the nightmarishly incompetent coaching job done by MLS lifer Bruce Arena. Due to his conservatism, passionate desire for 1-0 scorelines, and refusal to experiment with lineups, there is no argument for Arena other than pragmatism. Which is usually enough where coaches are concerns, but which does not pass muster here since the USMNT finished behind Panama and Honduras in qualifying.
Perhaps Arena would have done better if he had taken advantage of his full player pool. The USMNT’s midfield was particularly bad throughout qualifying, and Arena never turned to Danny Williams to lock down the middle of the field. Williams spent two seasons in the Championship with Reading and he is now getting regular minutes in the Premier League with Huddersfield Town. Despite playing a position of need for the USMNT now that the days of Michael Bradley destroying attacks in the center of the pitch are over, his chances with the USMNT have been sparse.
Williams recently spoke with NBC Sports about his breakout season and his status on the USMNT, which he captained for the first time in the team’s recent friendly against Portugal. He noted that he’s one of the only players getting consistent minutes in a top European league, and suggested that Arena was far too MLS friendly:
I think there are too many political things going on behind-the-scenes. [...] I wasn’t really close enough with the team for that amount of time so I can’t really talk, or give too much information, because I don’t really know about what happened.
Obviously I spoke to the boys when I was in Portugal. Everybody has a different view. I heard from a few people that they tried to ‘market the MLS’ a bit more in the [World Cup] qualifying games and get a name for the MLS. At the end of the day it shouldn’t be about that. It should be about quality and bringing the best players and having a plan. That is it. It is not only the U.S. that failed. Holland failed. Italy. Chile. This is unbelievable. Something is obviously going wrong because other smaller nations, they are speeding up their process. When I look at Iceland, they are a small country but they are actually playing at the World Cup.
The USMNT player pool is not especially deep, although it is concerning that players like Dax McCarty and Graham Zusi are still being relied upon at the international level. Arena tersely rejected Williams’s assertions:
We took who we felt were the best players, regardless of where they played. The statements are completely false.
ESPN FC crunched the numbers and found that lineup data doesn’t support Williams’s claims, although the only comparison made was to Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineups. However, Arena’s inflexibility was one of the primary reasons why the USMNT could never play up to its potential, so whether or not he actually played more MLS players than Klinsmann, the more important fact still remains: Bruce Arena is a bad coach.