“We’ve got a lot of things on our agenda, including a World Cup bid that is due in the end of March, and a decision in June,” Gulati said when asked, repeatedly, why he was not resigning. “And so I don’t plan to do that.”
Arena’s departure, which was revealed Friday morning in a statement from the coach, was hardly a surprise. He was under contract only through next summer’s World Cup, and with hopes of achieving that goal dashed, there was little reason for him to stay on.
Arena was in his second tenure as the national team’s coach; he previously led it in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. The first of those, a run to the quarterfinals in South Korea, is the modern high-water mark for the men’s program. In the second, in Germany in 2006, the Americans went out meekly in the group stage, leading to Arena’s first ouster as coach.
“It is the greatest privilege for any coach to manage their country’s national team, and as I leave that role today, I am honored and grateful to have had that opportunity twice in my career,” Arena said.
“When I took the job last November, I knew there was a great challenge ahead, probably more than most people could appreciate. Everyone involved in the program gave everything they had for the last 11 months, and in the end, we came up short. No excuses. We didn’t get the job done, and I accept responsibility.”
With Arena gone, Gulati said U.S. Soccer would do a full autopsy on the team’s failure. Everything, he said, was up for review: player development programs, coaching education, facilities, the role of college soccer in development. The examination, he said, “will obviously be a much deeper dive” than usual.
“We’ll take our time with that,” Gulati said. That, he noted, is a luxury the senior team has in abundance now that it won’t be going to Russia.
“Where we need to make major changes, we will do that,” Gulati added. “Where we need to make incremental changes, we’ll do that.”
That language was important, too. On multiple occasions, Gulati referred to the federation, its plans and its programs with the inclusive “we,” the legacy of more than a decade he has spent in its top leadership and of his far longer association in other roles. It is a habit whenever Gulati speaks, and on Friday — even though he has not yet confirmed he will seek a new term as president — it also seemed to signal that he saw his job as one that would continue.
And in reality, his fate is not in the hands of angry fans or TV commentators or political and legal rivals, at least not entirely. U.S. Soccer’s president is elected in a vote of representatives of its various councils: equal 25 percent shares for the youth, adult and pro councils, 20 percent to an athletes council, and the rest to a small group that includes board members, life members and even a fan representative. The larger groups are a constituency that Gulati, 58, knows well from three decades in U.S. Soccer, and while he probably can no longer count on their universal support, he appears ready to trust them to determine his fate — if he runs.
“I don’t think that’s a decision that you or I get to make,” Gulati said on Friday in response to a question about whether he deserved a new term. “That’s a decision that people who get to vote make.”
Gulati said he would decide “in the coming weeks” about a potential candidacy. But he also, without saying so, made the case for one by citing the gains soccer in the United States has made under his stewardship.
“If I look at the totality of where we’ve come from, and where the game is generally now, with our professional leagues, with player development, with our economic resources, all of those things — those things didn’t happen overnight,” he said. “And they didn’t happen on their own.”