New ESPN report alleges that locker-room troubles and a lack of a fighting spirit led to the US failing to qualify for the World Cup

Geoff Cameron, left.

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Geoff Cameron, left.
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Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

  • Chemistry problems and locker-room tension beset the US men’s national team’s doomed World Cup qualifying campaign, according to a new ESPN report.
  • The report identifies two significant sources of tension as the defender Geoff Cameron and disagreements with a contingent of German-American players within the program.
  • Furthermore, figures connected to the program told ESPN that the team had lost its fighting spirit and never-say-die attitude that was once its hallmark.

The failure of the United States to qualify for this year’s World Cup required many things to go wrong. But a new report from Jeff Carlisle of ESPN identifies the most significant factors as poor locker-room chemistry and a lack of a fight-until-the-end mentality that had defined previous US men’s soccer teams.

“Chemistry for me is about commitment,” Tim Howard, a long-serving team goalkeeper, told Carlisle. “It’s not about personalities. I think when people think about team chemistry, it’s like one big powwow and everyone loves each other and hangs out. Chemistry is having one direct message from the manager – ‘this is the style we’re going to play, this is what I expect of you as a player’ – and then going out and performing every single day.”

As far as possible sources of the locker-room strife go, the defender Geoff Cameron does not come out looking particularly great in the article.

Citing several anonymous sources, Carlisle reported that when Cameron was told he would be given a reduced role in the fateful pair of qualifiers against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago, “Cameron’s attitude was so bad that there was consideration given to sending him home,” though Carlisle added that the former team manager Bruce Arena “denied that this was the case.”

Carlisle also described tension in the program between players born and raised in the US and those who are German-American, such as Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson – something other reports have said. Johnson denied that in the ESPN report, while Jones declined to comment.

Carlisle’s piece extensively alludes to the idea that in addition to – or perhaps because of – these locker-room problems, the team has lost its fighting spirit.

“When we were in Trinidad, we needed better fighters. We didn’t necessarily need better players,” one unnamed former US international told ESPN. “That’s what we’ve lost. We’ve lost how to fight, how to battle to get results.”

And Alejandro Bedoya, who was on the roster for those two crucial qualifying matches, told Carlisle that “there was complacency.”

Bedoya added: “We were losing easy balls in the middle of the field when we wanted to attack them out wide and that stuff. So it felt like maybe there was a little bit of complacency, a little bit of arrogance about our style that we just needed to get out there and get the job done.”

Even these concerns do not cover the full range of what must have had to go wrong for this disaster to hit the US program. Jurgen Klinsmann and Arena made coaching blunders during the qualification process. Furthermore, the US soccer talent behind Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey turned out to be a bit of a lost generation, failing to produce players capable of supplanting entrenched veterans or even pushing them to fight for their roles on the team.

Read Carlisle’s full report »