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Mike Lopresti | | October 11, 2017

College soccer coaches: How does USMNT rebound, regroup?

  The United States Men's National Team failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

On the day after the national men’s team went bust, the American soccer community was reeling. No U.S. in the World Cup? How to describe the shock?

We could ask some of the men who have given their lives to the game. Let’s find some of the top college coaches, to see how much they felt the pain.

The coach of the No. 1 ranked team in the nation was in his office Wednesday, preparing to play Kentucky in a few hours . . . .

Indiana’s Todd Yeagley had been at home with his family Tuesday night, watching the U.S. national team go down to Trinidad and Tobago 2-1, thus doomed to miss the World Cup.

“I think anyone that cares about soccer and is as invested in it as we all are, it was really tough to watch,” he said. “Gut-wrenching was probably the best way to describe it. It was very quiet. I just kind of sat there in disbelief. I didn’t see the passion and the fight in the group that knew what was on the line. I know they knew that, but it just didn’t translate to us as the viewers, that they were playing for a lot.”

So what now for American soccer?

“I don’t think there’s a silver bullet. The over-reaction of many I’m sure today is everyone will want to reinvent the wheel. That doesn’t need to happen. If we had won the game, probably everyone would be feeling pretty good, and saying not much needs to be fixed. I don’t think that would have been the right solution either. I think it’s definitely somewhere in the middle. It goes to every level, every process.”

The American downfall was to be part of his pregame conversation with his Hoosiers Wednesday night, because Yeagley understood his players might be unsettled, too.

“I’ll reassure them that U.S. soccer is still going in a good way. There’s still so many positives. This is a setback, but often you get stronger from it.”

The coach of the No. 2 ranked team in the nation gave his players Wednesday off.  . . .

Bobby Muuss’ Wake Forest team had routed Longwood 8-0 the night before, and then rushed into the locker room to see the second half of the U.S. game. “I still can’t believe that it’s happened. I think I’m a little bit more numb.

“It’s the sport that we love so much, it’s my livelihood, it’s my passion. World Cups in my opinion are meant to have the Americans in it. The reality of it still hasn’t hit.  It’s disheartening. The steps that we’ve taken in fan base and media coverage and individual players is at an all-time high. To now go into the summer without a team in the World Cup, I don’t know if it stalls that, but it doesn’t help it.”

He has no clear answer to why it happened —  “That’s a loaded question” — or what to do now.  “I do think it’s time right now as a country we take a step back and see what’s working and what isn’t. I don’t think one could say that everything is not working. And obviously it would be really naïve to say what we’re doing is working. I can’t put my finger on it.”

He won’t soon forget Tuesday night, how even players’ parents came by to commiserate.  “For anybody that loves the game and is truly passionate about the game, it’s just a shock. We won last night, and the staff’s sitting around feeling like we lost. And in some ways, we did.”

The winningest coach in NCAA men’s soccer history was riding the team bus Wednesday, on the way to a game at DePauw  . . .

Ohio Wesleyan’s Jay Martin had been in front of the television the night before, too, when the only word worse than Trinidad for American soccer was Tobago.

“It was excruciating to watch. If my team played like that I’d be beside myself in terms of effort and enthusiasm and all those other things.”

The defeat had been the talk of his team Wednesday morning when the players gathered for yoga, and it carried over to the bus.

MORE: NCAA Division I Men's Soccer Committee will reveal top 10 teams Oct. 29

“It’s almost like we’re going to a funeral,” Martin said. “These kids care very much about the national team and U.S. soccer. I’m a little bit worried about it, going to try to play a game right now. They’re very upset. They can’t understand why. And they don’t’ really know about the history of U.S. men’s soccer and the culture of our soccer system to really understand what happened.”

So what did happen? Martin has been coaching Ohio Wesleyan for 41 years and spent a lot of time with youth soccer, as well. He has ideas, and the frustration poured out, somewhere on a highway in the Midwest.

“I could actually see this coming the last 12 or 15 years, maybe even more. The problem is our soccer culture. It’s awful. When it’s compared to other soccer-playing countries, we’re not even close. The problem is soccer has become a vehicle for many, many to people to make a lot of money. Some directors of these youth programs are making up to $200,000 so they really don’t care about the U.S. men’s national team, except to give it lip service. What they care about is making $200,000."

"Everybody’s too selfish to be honest with you."

Anything else?

“Most countries, the soccer federation is in charge of everything soccer. But our U.S. Soccer Federation is not in charge of everything soccer. They’re not in charge of MLS, they’re not in charge of the NCAA, they’re not in charge of the youth organizations, and all these organizations do their own things.  We have the facilities, we have the athletes but we’re never going to compete internationally until we can sit down and iron out our differences and get on the same page, and I’m just not very confident that’s going to happen.

“I’ve seen the metamorphosis of soccer in this country on a steady rise over the last 20 years. We were really on an upward swing, but I could see crack in the foundation over the last seven or eight years, so yes, at a very personal level it’s more than disappointing. We took a major step back.”

Jay Martin has won 693 games and nobody else is close, but Wednesday was a gray day.  He’s a soccer guy. Probably all other soccer guys around the NCAA understood.

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