Sunil Gulati has been decimated in social media and by the current field of individuals running for USSF President. He is being blamed for the USMNT not qualifying for the World Cup, for bringing in Bruce Arena who ultimately failed in his role to secure a spot in Russia. These accusations are accurate and Sunil should have resigned immediately, but certainly shouldn’t be running for office again. In retrospect many have spoken of his career and his impact on the game, and I wanted to spend some moments reflecting on his contributions and the challenges under his uncontested leadership for the past 12 years.
He had some fantastic measurable accomplishments in his time:
- Finished 1st in CONCACAF Three World Cup Cycles in a Row
- 2009 Confederations Cup Finals (Lost to Brazil 3-2) – Defeated Spain 2-0 in the Semi-Finals
- Survived Group of Death in the 2014 World Cup and nearly defeated Belgium in round of 16
- USA beating Mexico in Mexico City 2012 Friendly
- Beating Netherland and Germany back-to-back 2015 Friendlies
- Beating Italy in Italy 2012 Friendly
- Helped attract Jurgen Klinsmann as coach, certainly a controversial, but the most high profile coach the US has ever had.
- Having strong financial results as an organization.
Unfortunately, while great accomplishments most of them were the results of friendlies and both of his tournament accomplishments ended in disappointments listed below.
Why did he have to go? The problem wasn’t what he or this team was capable of, but continued wasted opportunities. He showed signs of life in the Copa America and getting out of the group stage in the World Cup, but never really developed the US team into anything more than it had been before he took over.
Here’s a few key recent low lights:
- Ultimately not making it to World Cup 2018 in a very weak confederation.
- Losing to 2-1 Trinidad and Tobago in a failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
- First loss to Mexico on US soil in 2018 World Cup qualifying.
- Lost 4-0 to Costa Rica in 2018 World Cup qualifying.
- Loss to Mexico to once again fail to make it to the 2017 Confederations Cup, a game Jurgen listed as a crucial opportunity for the US and something very important to him.
- Finishing in 4th place in the 2015 Gold Cup was a huge disappointment and embarrassment.
- Not getting a shot off in the Semi-final against Argentina in the 2016 Copa America.
- Losing to Guatamala in the 2014 World Cup qualifying.
There are some deeper disappointments too that truly cost Gulati his job, less measurable ones:
- In the Mexico qualify loss Klinsmann started a new formation and it appeared it required Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones begging for a formation change which almost got the US back in the game for Jurgen to move to the formation.
- In the Costa Rica game it appeared Klinsmann had lost the locker room, and we saw some of the worst soccer played by this team to date. This forced Gulati to fire Jurgen and search for a replacement.
- Hiring Bruce Arena was supposed to salvage our 2018 cycle, it did not happen and cost both Bruce and Sunil their jobs. Bruce’s team lost to Trinidad and Tobago when it mattered most.
- Not developing youth academies, scouting and youth systems fast enough to continually improve the talent we were producing for a nation of our size.
- Not investing in developing coaches, youth and improving women’s equal pay with the revenues from USSF.
Overall, Sunil did some great things to move US forward. He put the US team more on the World’s radar with the last series of World Cup results, he made some changes in the youth system and helped to increase the game’s popularity here and abroad. Credit is due to Gulati for drawing Jurgen Klinsmann as a coach and now other prominent coaches having interest in the position.
Ultimately, Gulati was not able to accomplish what he had promised to deliver. He bet his name and his brand on Bruce Arena. Bruce bet his name and his brand on MLS. Neither delivered. Maybe Sunil was right with a single shot being two inches wide perhaps no one else would have contested Gulati’s role for President. The fact is the shot missed and Sunil needs to go. We now look forward to whoever will take over hopefully pushing the US forward in the chase for a cup.