McNamara, Johnson and Vieira Discuss U.S. Failure

Photograph by Matt Kremkau

NYCFC logoThe disappointment with the United States men’s national team’s failure to qualify for the World Cup lingered on the faces of Thomas McNamara and Sean Johnson. Both were in the national team pool for this past cycle and could remain for the next cycle. Johnson watched part of the game waiting in the airport for a flight.

“It was tough to have a long flight back with no Wi-Fi and I had two of hours of silence but it didn’t matter, it still hurt,” Johnson said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow but the only way we can go is up. We have to figure it out going forward and there’s disappointment personally for the team, for the fans and for the country. Everybody shares that disappointment and it’s something we all have to work to correct.”

Johnson was called into the national team for the early stage of last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, and he is likely to be one of the goalkeepers in contention for the starting role in the next cycle. A national team veteran, Johnson declined to speak about any specific areas of concern he had experienced. He said he is now focused on finishing the regular season with New York City FC.

McNamara only made the provisional roster for the Gold Cup and watched some of the game with fans at a team event before watching the rest at home. He said he felt crushing disappointment at the unexpected failure but added that it was important to take a second before fully assessing what went wrong.

“I’m sure a lot of people make valid points but it’s also difficult,” McNamara said. “Our country is setup and structured differently than the rest of world, specifically in regards to education and in regards to history and financial accumulation. There’s a lot of good ideas and we want to be as successful as other countries in the world but our system is structurally set up different because our country is different.”

McNamara is one of many American players who followed the college route where the soccer was competitive but only played for one part of the calendar year. While that resulted in him not playing professionally until age 23, it also allowed him to receive a Bachelor’s Degree in economics from Brown University in economics and put him on the path toward a Master’s Degree in Applied Economics from Clemson University. McNamara said the financial considerations a player his age had to make at 17 and 18 are different than what one would have to make now in the same situation.

“There’s more opportunities now with the USL and the Homegrown rule,” McNamara said. “The youth national teams are getting more respect across the world. They’re giving opportunities to guys in Germany and elsewhere but still the big difference is the financial aspect of it. It’s difficult for an 18-year-old kid to come out for $50,000 and two years guaranteed. He doesn’t know if this is worth it or if it’s not or he can get an education in two years and then be a homegrown.”

When asked about McNamara starting his career so late, Coach Patrick Vieira used it to make the larger point that many in the U.S. begin playing professional soccer too late in their career. He thought of himself and current French stars like Kylian Mbappé becoming first-team players and internationals while still in their teens who had been training twice-a-day since they were 15. Having witnessed France’s failure to qualify for the World Cup in 1994, Vieira said he saw France make few changes before winning the World Cup four years later.

Aimé Jacquet came on and he worked in the Euro 96 in England and that is where he found the leaders that he needed to build around for the World Cup in 98,” Vieira said. “I don’t think that the U.S. should throw everything out and start from nothing. I think they’ve been working for the last few years and it’s just taking the good and the bad and just try to reflect on what went wrong. I don’t think they should throw everything away because that’s not the answer.”

Vieira was careful to qualify his marks stating that he was viewing the U.S. situation as an outsider. That status, however, may make him an attractive candidate for the head coaching role and he was listed as such by Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl. While Vieira said that flattered him, he ruled himself out as a candidate.

“I’m not ready,” he said. “When you go to the national team, it’s important to know the league, to know the players, to understand the system and how it works and you need experience. There’s a lot of better candidates than myself.”

NOTES

Everyone who participated in the recent international break returned to training for NYCFC healthy and fit. Jack Harrison was held out of training Thursday after arriving in New York late Wednesday. … Maxime Chanot‘s recovery is taking a little longer than expected and Vieira ruled him out for City’s game at the New England Revolution on Sunday. … Sean Johnson was able to fully participate in training after being rested during the week in the past month. Johnson admitted that the recent stretch was one of the most difficult he’s had in terms of trying to stay healthy.