At U.S. Soccer, Arena Is Out; Gulati Stays, for Now

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

US logoYes, Bruce Arena on Friday resigned as the coach of the United States men’s national team.

No, Sunil Gulati on Friday did not resign as president of the United States Soccer Federation.

The rest, in a 45-minute telephone conference call with the news media — days after the national team lost at Trinidad and Tobago and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup — was merely inside baseball, nuts and bolts with little real news. It did not quite rise to the level of “fake news,” but anyone expecting a top-to-bottom housecleaning is going to be severely disappointed.

“I am not resigning because there are a lot of things to do,” Gulati said. “I am in the middle of a World Cup bid.”

He could also soon be in the middle of his final re-election campaign for his current post. And though the Columbia University economics professor said he will not now step down, he also did not say that he is certain of running for another term as federation president.

“I take full responsibility [for the failure to qualify], but I don’t plan to resign and it’s not the right day for me to talk about my personal future plans in terms of the federation presidency,” Gulati said.

That vote will be held in February, and while Gulati said he still has to decide if he will run again, several other people have already stated their intentions — Steve Gans and probably Eric Wynalda, for example — while others with a vested interest in overturning the current regime — people like Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso — have demanded Gulati step down. Gulati also mentioned the 2026 World Cup bid, a joint effort among the U.S., Mexico and Canada, that soon needs to be submitted to FIFA as a reason for staying on.

In response to a question about other federation presidents around the world departing after their nations failed to qualify for the World Cup, Gulati said that the premise is not correct.

“That is not the case around the world,” he said. “Coaches do resign, but that’s not the case with most presidents.”

Gulati said that the U.S. plans to follow through with plans to play one, possibly two friendlies in Europe next month, with an interim coach. That person is likely to be Tab Ramos, the current coach of the U-20 team and the person who Gulati said is currently the federation’s de facto technical director. With Arena’s resignation, it brings to a close the international career of a man who took the U.S. within one goal of the semifinals in 2002, but who — by his own admission — failed in his second go-round with the national team. (Arena’s letter to the federation is here.)

“This morning I received Bruce Arena’s resignation,” Gulati said. “I want to thank Bruce for everything he’s done for the game over a long period. It’s unfortunate it ended the way it did. His record on the college, professional and national team levels is exemplary.”

Asked what he has to tell U.S. fans after the failure to qualify, Gulati said: “What I’d say is that all of us involved in the game are passionate about team and extraordinarily disappointed. None of us is happy about not going [to the World Cup]. One thing it reconfirmed is that the passion and support have grown tremendously. We will do all we can to get all our teams back on track, but we’re not always going to be successful. I understand how much anger, disappointment and hurt there is.”