Atlanta United players react to U.S. World Cup debacle

Neither Michael Parkhurst nor Jacob Peterson thought they would ever see the U.S. fail to qualify for a World Cup.

The Atlanta United players, both Americans who have played for the national and/or youth teams, didn’t hide their disappointment Wednesday after the U.S. men’s national team was stunned by Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 on Tuesday.

That loss, a listless display featuring neither tactics nor energy by most of the U.S. players, combined with results in two other games, eliminated the U.S. from participating in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

It’s the first time the U.S. has missed the World Cup since 1986.

“Massively disappointing,” Parkhurst said. “Shock. Disbelief. A tie away from the World Cup, playing in Trinidad, you think we can get the job done, but that wasn’t the case.”

Parkhurst and Peterson said perhaps the players were tired after defeating Panama 4-0 in Orlando on Friday. Manager Bruce Arena used the same starting 11 again against Trinidad and Tobago. Fatigue, combined with the travel and playing on soaked field may have been factors, according to the players. But they shouldn’t be used as excuses.

“Disappointing just seeing the lack of urgency or the energy compared to what they brought in Orlando,” Parkhurst said.

Peterson defended the players’ desire.

“I know that all of them care,” he said. “They would do anything to make the World Cup. I can guarantee that all of those guys are devastated.”

Though the finals of CONCACAF qualifying includes only six teams, the top three finishers are guaranteed a spot in the World Cup and the fourth-place team advances to a playoff. Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama advanced to Russia. Honduras advanced to the playoff.

“When there’s 3 1/2 spots there for the taking you think the U.S. will get one every time,” Parkhurst said. “These teams are getting better, no doubt about that. But they aren’t at our level yet consistently. For that reason, it’s disappointing.”

The U.S. finished in fifth with just 12 points from 10 games.

“There’s no reason we shouldn’t qualify in CONCACAF,” Peterson said. “There’s absolutely no reason.”

Peterson wishes there was just one easily identifiable thing that could be fixed and get the U.S. back on track to quality for Qatar in 2022. One thing can easily be repaired. Instead, some of Atlanta United’s players said hiring the right manager and continuing to develop the academies each MLS team has are the first two steps.

Kevin Kratz said the youth academies in his native Germany have been operating for a long time. That flow of talent is one of the reasons why Germany is the defending World Cup champ as well as the Confederations Cup title-holder, which was won with what be considered a B-level squad.

Kratz said that continual pipeline of talent combined with a manager (Joachim Low) who plays a consistent system and encourages competition at positions has led to Germany’s success.

Peterson said the next coach, should Bruce Arena not return after his contract expires next year, needs a system that can filter through the U.S. youth national teams. He believes the senior team has talent. They just need the right system.

“There’s got to be an identity,” Peterson said. “We have to hold people accountable. We need to talk about it. We can’t gloss over our failure, whether with the Olympic teams or youth teams.

“We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. Hopefully this will wake everybody up. We have invested a lot of money, energy and time and have smart people in place. Now, we have to put everything together. At this point, it’s devastating for U.S. soccer and fans.”

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