The Real Salt Lake locker room buzzed with talk of the United States men’s national team ahead of training Wednesday.
The American soccer community watched in shock and horror as the USMNT lost to Trinidad and Tobago 2-1 Tuesday, missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986. U.S. soccer fans across the nation took stock of what had led up to failure. RSL’s players and coaches were no different.
RSL coach Mike Petke told the media gathered at training Wednesday that as an outsider looking in he didn’t think it was fair for him to share all his opinions on the national team, but he did offer up some.
“I thought Bruce [Arena] was the right man for the job,” he said. “I still think that was the right selection they made. I think we have very good players. Sometimes it just doesn’t go your way.
“That’s all I’ll say about the team, but looking at it a bit deeper it’s interesting to hear people saying— and I put a lot of value in it — about, we have to look deep inside U.S. soccer and youth development stuff. I’m somebody who spent over a year with youth development in New Jersey, and I can tell you there’s a lot wrong. There’s a lot right, but there’s a lot wrong.”
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The United States’ 4-0 rout of Panama Friday left just already-eliminated Trinidad and Tobago between the U.S. and a ticket to Russia. The failure to qualify sparked calls for the United States to shake up its whole system, from the youth level on up.
Much of the criticism included exasperation that high-level youth soccer in the United States, unlike most of the rest of the world, is especially hard to access for low-income families.
“Everybody’s crying foul right now, but that’s been apparent for a really long time,” RSL right back Tony Beltran said. “So I don’t know why we haven’t changed it.”
Rusnák makes first start for Slovakia
Albert Rusnák made his first start for Slovakia’s senior team in a World Cup qualifying match Sunday.
“I thought Albert did very well,” Petke said. “I know they’re out of the World Cup, but I expect that any future call-ups, starting in the new year, he’s going to be a part of because he’s earned that and deserves that.”
Rusnák didn’t see the field in Slovakia’s 1-0 loss to Scotland Thursday after Róbert Mak’s red card shook up the lineup. In the next match Rusnák played 87 minutes in a 3-0 victory over Malta. Slovakia finished second in Group F, narrowly missing a berth to the second round.
“The second game, we had to win that game and I got a start, so I felt great and honored to start my first game for Slovakia,” Rusnák said. “But … the bigger picture is qualifying, and we haven’t done that.”
The eight best second-place teams out of the nine groups advance. Slovakia was the only group runner-up to be eliminated.
A pair of surgeries
Forward Chard Barrett’s road to recovery just got longer.
Barrett has undergone a second left knee surgery to repair a femoral chondral defect, RSL announced Wednesday. He underwent the first in April, at which time he was expected to be out for four to six months.
“This is a new injury,” team orthopedic surgeon Andrew Cooper said in a release. “It’s tough to deal with because he was doing everything right and was still in recovery, but this one is not as big as the first.”
Barrett will is out for the remainder of the season.
Cooper also performed a successful surgery Tuesday on defender Justin Schmidt’s broken left foot.
“He had the option not to have surgery,” Cooper said of the fracture in Schmidt’s fifth metatarsal, “but after fixing it, it should heal faster and he should be ready for next season.”
The injury is expected to sideline Schmidt for eight weeks.