One of Berhalter’s services as a USMNT manager is recruiting. The coach has taken criticism for tactics, team selection and, recently, the dressing room controls. One constant has been its ability to recruit players. Sergino Dest (FC Barcelona), Yunus Musah (Valencia) and Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas) all signed up for the USMNT during his tenure. Recently, the USSF saw two provisionally handcuffed people Julian Araujo and David Ochoa submit a one-time move to our rival Mexico. Why are talented dual nats going, how can the USSF alleviate this problem and how is the USMNT making progress now that two top perspectives are gone?
It was a warm spring day in Guadalajara. The USMNT needed another U23 Olympic qualifier win to get to Tokyo. Two of the players on the field were David Ochoa and Julian Araujo, a goalkeeper and right-back. Araujo and Ochoa were under 21 years old. They were high quality prospects in the USMNT pool; both were also available for Mexico. Araujo and Ochoa were signed to the national team and were ready to fight for the badge. The tournament hadn’t been easy; Jason Kreis picked a very defensive squad that lacked creativity. Although Kreiss team selection lacked offensive opportunities and put pressure on the defense, the USMNT expected a qualification. The USMNT lost 2-1 to Honduras that day and missed the Olympics.
A little over two weeks after the USMNT failed to qualify, the MLS season began. Julian Araujo was a starter for the LA Galaxy. David Ochoa started for Real Salt Lake. Araujo, whose form had deteriorated during Olympic qualification, made an impact on his return to the galaxy. A player who looked lost just weeks earlier appeared to be one of the best full-backs in the league. Many USMNT fans began to regain their enthusiasm. That excitement continued with David Ochoa’s debut season; he performed well and showed courage and determination. Two top prospects had shaken off the pain of the lack of Tokyo and began to play consistently at the club level.
The Concacaf Nations League took place in June. The USMNT won the tournament with a 3-2 win over Mexico in an exciting final. Araujo was absent from the squad but Ochoa was present as the third choice goalkeeper. In the final, Zack Steffen, the USA’s starting keeper, was injured. Berhalter challenged Horvath, a substitute goalkeeper for Club Bruges, and Horvath made many important moves and saved the decisive penalty. Ochoa did not play a single minute of the Nations leagues. In the weeks that followed, Ochoa filed a one-time bill of exchange.
Julian Araujo continued to perform for the LA Galaxy. The Gold Cup started in July and Araujo was selected but refused to join the squad. In his place, the USMNT took an injured Reggie Cannon and Laliga Segunda player Shaq Moore. Shaq Moore had an excellent tournament that included the fastest goal ever scored in USMNT history. The US called Araujo to the WCQ, which he also refused, stating that he was waiting for his final decision. Araujo’s situation has been reported by several sources over the past three months. Last week Araujo submitted his one-time move to Mexico.
Many fans and reporters have speculated on the reasons why both players submitted the move. Some have argued that this was due to the influence of parents and agents. Others have argued that the atmosphere Berhalter created within the team is not conducive to Latino inclusivity. Rumors of individual player confidence and morale were also widespread. Many have stated that Araujo didn’t feel like a long-term player in the USMNT and that Ochoa thought it would be harder to break through. While these statements may be somewhat true, it is not beneficial to speculate as we do not know their validity.
The majority of dual nationals who have left the USMNT and are rumored to be leaving the USMNT are Mexican Americans. Players like Araujo, Ochoa, Ledezma, Leone are extreme talents. Players signed to the national team have either dropped out or are reportedly rethinking their current affiliation. The USSF has done a lackluster job of imparting to these individuals the faith and goodwill they have towards them. The USSF has consistently relied on others and has apparently refused to provide leadership and personnel to represent the Latino community. Coupled with the murmur that the Latino players are not allowed to speak Spanish in training and the lack of locker control by the Berhalter staff, it is no wonder that we have lost these valuable players.
The question we now have: How can we mitigate the loss of talent? First of all, we have to ask: is this problem with the coach or the association? Although Berhalter played some role in this loss, I believe the USSF is to blame. As I mentioned earlier, the USSF Latino Dual Nats did not provide the amenities others received. Culture plays a huge role in recruiting, and the team is culturally non-inclusive towards Latino players. A lack of representation in the national team and in the staff has a negative effect on the relationship between the players and the association. Landing players like Pepi will help with this problem, but it goes deeper. The USSF’s refusal to hire coaches like Oscar Pareja and Marcelo Bielsa confirms the belief that they are not ready to serve a large chunk of the player pool.
The association has to prove to the Dual-Nats that it offers an accepting culture and a system that offers all players the same chance of success. It is imperative to keep Ledezma; Landing Antonio Leone is crucial. While the loss of Araujo and Ochoa is a major blow, we have to expect players like Scally and Slonina to take their positions.
The fan base needs to understand that the loss of dual nats is inevitable and will increase. We have to realize that with a better talent pool it is not possible to keep every player. While these statements are true, it is the association’s responsibility to support these players nonetheless. We cannot lose talented players due to a lack of inclusive culture and teams.