US boss Sunil Gulati refuses to stand down, despite taking responsibility for World Cup failure

But coach Bruce Arena falls on his sword for failure to reach next year’s World Cup in Russia

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 10:12am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 October, 2017, 8:15pm

US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati said he would not resign and might even seek re-election, despite the Americans’ failing to qualify for next year’s World Cup in Russia.

Just minutes after US coach Bruce Arena resigned in the wake of Tuesday’s 2-1 loss at Trinidad and Tobago, which saw the US fail to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986, Gulati took the blame for the humiliating failure.

“It’s a shock to the system. We fully expected to qualify,” he said. “It’s a big disappointment … I certainly take responsibility for us not getting to Russia.”

Gulati, a 58-year-old India-born American, then outlined why he thinks he remains the right person to guide the programme back from the abyss, including the US role in a combined bid with Mexico and Canada for the 2026 World Cup.

USA miss out on World Cup qualification for the first time in almost 30 years after agonising Trinidad defeat

“I don’t plan to resign,” Gulati said. “We’ve got a lot of things on our agenda, including a World Cup bid that’s due in March.

“I don’t plan to do that – because of everything, where the sport is now, the role I played in it and where it could go if I choose to run again.”

Gulati became the US Soccer supremo on March 11, 2006, and finished a four-year term on the Fifa executive committee earlier this year.

He has overseen a US growth in interest, but his watch also included this year’s bitter flop and numerous calls from supporters for his quick resignation.

“I can understand the frustration, sure,” Gulati said.

“We’ll do everything we can to get the team and the programme back on track so we can be successful. We understand how much anger and hurt there is from Tuesday night.”

New York Cosmos owner Rocco Commisso, part of a group suing the federation over antitrust issues, renewed a call for Gulati to resign.

“Sunil Gulati’s role as a US Soccer power broker has outlasted three US presidents,” Commisso said. “The responsibility for the American men’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup and the last two Olympic Games must land at Mr Gulati’s feet.

“His public acknowledgement of shared responsibility for the national team’s disastrous failure to qualify is meaningless unless there is a personal consequence to him reflective of the seriousness of the debacle he presided over.”

A new election for US Soccer president is set for February with candidate nominations due in December.

Gulati said he would decide “in the next few weeks” about whether to run again but noted, “I have reached out to people about endorsing me or nominating me in the last few weeks”.

Arena, 66, was called upon last November to replace Juergen Klinsmann as US coach after two losses to begin qualifying.

Arena, who guided the US team into the 2002 World Cup quarter-finals and at the 2006 World Cup, said missing the finals was a “major setback”.

“Everyone involved in the programme gave everything they had for the last 11 months and, in the end, we came up short,” Arena said. “No excuses. We didn’t get the job done and I accept responsibility.

“While this is a difficult time, I maintain a fierce belief that we are heading in the right direction.”