U.S.

Jim Curtin calls U.S. men's World Cup qualifying failure 'devastating'

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Jim Curtin calls U.S. men's World Cup qualifying failure 'devastating'

CHESTER, Pa. — The Union play a game Sunday but head coach Jim Curtin knew he wouldn’t get many questions about that following Thursday’s practice.

And that’s not because the Union have already been eliminated from playoff contention when they hit the road to face the Chicago Fire (5 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia). It’s because all anyone can talk about this week is the historic U.S. national team loss to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday that caused the Americans to miss the World Cup for the first time since 1986 and send shockwaves throughout the entire country’s soccer community.

That certainly includes Curtin, who played in MLS for many years before getting his start in coaching, first at the youth level.

“It’s devastating,” the Union coach said. “It’s a devastating result for anyone that’s involved in soccer. If you just take the 90 minutes and the simultaneous 90 minutes going on in different countries and the chain of events that happened, for it to all fall apart before our eyes was incredible. It will be probably a 30 for 30 or some kind of documentary.”

While the surreal set of circumstances that included last-ditch, come-from-behind wins by Panama and Honduras to knock the USMNT out was painful in the moment, many soccer people have since used it as a way to take stock of the state of soccer in the United States.

How does a country as big as this one fail to beat tiny Trinidad and Tobago in a do-or-die game? How did the U.S. go 3-4-3 in the Hexagonal stage of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying when it had won the Hex the previous three times?

Curtin has heard all the takes, flying in from every direction, and has tried to figure it out himself.

“Is it grassroots? Not getting enough city kids involved in soccer? The academies letting us down? The coaches in our country letting us down? The player pool not being good enough? The fact that we haven’t qualified for the Olympics in two cycles? It’s a little bit of all of those things,” he said. “There’s no one answer. There’s no one person that’s right. It does prove we have to step back, evaluate things and get better for it.

“Listen, our country right now, we are the best at basketball, we are the best at American football, we are the best at baseball, we’re not the best at soccer. Sometimes maybe we feel like we’re taking big steps forward but the reality is it’s still newer in this country and we have to improve. We have to get better.”

MLS has certainly taken its share of criticism for the World Cup failure with some pointing the finger at USMNT stars like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard and even Union captain Alejandro Bedoya leaving the more cutthroat world of European soccer to play club soccer in their home country. Interestingly enough, MLS has also probably made the rest of CONCACAF better — a point that was driven home when the Seattle Sounders’ Roman Torres scored the game-winning goal for Panama shortly after the Houston Dynamo’s Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto both scored for Honduras.

But while Curtin acknowledged the fact that the league’s “amazing facilities” and other factors have boosted the Panamanian and Honduran programs, he also said the USMNT still “has the quality in our player pool” to beat those countries out for a World Cup spot. He is concerned, though, that the league often favors foreign-born players at the expense of American ones.

“Listen, I’m a believer that the domestic league has to be a resource in developing players,” Curtin said. “It really has to be. You look at different countries and the way they do it — some are successful in doing it, some are not so successful. And right now, there are big decisions that have to happen, with the league and U.S. soccer.

“I think it’s critical because you do see the direction our league is going and it probably wouldn’t be one that would favor the American player right now to be honest, with the different ways money’s coming into it. So it’s an important time. We still have very good young American players in our league that are getting better each and every day and developing. But you do want to see more of it.”

While admitting it might be better served as an “eight-hour discussion,” Curtin also touched on the pay-to-play model of youth soccer in this country. He recognized that it’s “big business” for people who make a living doing it but that it “does get in the way of what’s best for kids.” And he said he’s been in rooms where people involved in youth soccer simply don’t listen to each other because “everyone has to show they’re the smartest guy in the room.”

“We’re probably one of the few countries in the world where soccer is a privileged sport, and if people want to argue that, they’re crazy,” Curtin said. “It’s a privileged sport in this country across the board. Do I have the answer how to change that? I don’t have it right now. I wish I did. But there are enough resources, we have enough facilities in the United States of America to do a better job of getting the best kids involved, regardless of whether they’re rich kids, regardless of whether they’re middle class, regardless of whether they have nothing. 

“I think we’re out of excuses, to be honest. I can’t come up with one reason why we can’t be better.”

While Curtin does not have a direct connection to the USMNT, he knows that “if our national team fails, soccer is going to fail in this country.” And missing out on a once-every-four-years event like the World Cup hurts the growth of soccer and is a big blow for all of the kids — his three included — that will have to wait five years to watch the U.S. on the world’s biggest sporting stage.

But for the Union coach, there are still too many exciting things happening around the sport and MLS for him to be entirely discouraged.

“Honestly, I still see the game moving forward,” he said. “The coverage for the game, MLS is getting better despite people that will blame the league for the collapse. The game is growing in our country, that’s inevitable. It’s on TV more. Does this hurt? Absolutely. It hurts the growth any time there’s a setback like this, but there’s still good things happening.

“We got punched in the teeth and now we have to get up and recover.”

Rio police charge Ryan Lochte with false report of robbery

Rio police charge Ryan Lochte with false report of robbery

RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazilian police charged American swimmer Ryan Lochte on Thursday with filing a false robbery report over an incident during the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

A police statement said Lochte would be informed in the United States so he could decide whether to introduce a defense in Brazil. The indictment will also be sent to the International Olympic Committee's ethics commission, it said.

"The investigation was concluded on Thursday and Olympic American swimmer Ryan Lochte was indicted for the crime of falsely reporting a crime," the statement said.

It said the case was turned over to a special Brazilian court that has jurisdiction over crimes related to major sporting events. The court, which was established before Brazil hosted soccer's 2014 World Cup, is authorized to receive cases straight from the police when lesser charges are involved, without a need for prosecutors.

The swimmer's spokeswoman, Melissa Nathan, said Lochte had no comment.

During the games, Lochte initially said that he and fellow swimmers Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen were robbed at gunpoint in a taxi by men with a police badge as they returned to the Olympic Village from a party Aug. 15.

Video surveillance emerged showing the athletes getting into a confrontation with security guards at the gas station when their taxi pulled over to let them use the restroom. While there have been conflicting versions over whether the guards pulled their weapons on the swimmers, Lochte has since acknowledged he was highly intoxicated and that his behavior led to the confrontation.

Lochte left Brazil shortly after the incident. Three days later, local authorities took Conger and Bentz off an airliner heading to the United States so they could be questioned about the robbery claim. They were later allowed to leave Brazil, as was Feigen, after he also gave testimony. Feigen, who initially stood by Lochte's testimony, was not charged.

Under Brazilian law, the penalty for falsely filing a crime report carries a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison. Lochte could be tried in absentia if he didn't return to face the charge.

The United States and Brazil have an extradition treaty dating back to the 1960s, but Brazil has a long history of not extraditing its own citizens to other nations and U.S. authorities could take the same stance if Lochte is found guilty.

That is currently the case of the head of Brazil's football confederation, Marco Polo del Nero, who faces charges in the wide-ranging scandal entangling international soccer's ruling body, FIFA. He has not travelled outside Brazil for more than a year to avoid being arrested by U.S. authorities somewhere else.

The charges in Brazil raise questions about the future for Lochte, who is planning to take time off from swimming but wants to return to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. He has 12 Olympic medals, second only to Michael Phelps among U.S. male Olympians.

Lochte lost four major sponsors early this week over the controversy, including Speedo USA and Ralph Lauren. But on Thursday he picked up a new sponsor -- Pine Bros. Softish Throat Drops. Pine Bros. said people should be more understanding of the swimmer and said he will appear in ads that say the company's product is "Forgiving On Your Throat."

Ryan Lochte dropped by 4 sponsors after Rio incident

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Ryan Lochte dropped by 4 sponsors after Rio incident

Less than 24 hours after the close of the Rio Olympics, Ryan Lochte took a major financial hit Monday for a drunken incident he initially tried to pass off as an armed robbery.

In quick succession, four sponsors announced they were dumping the swimmer, who has since apologized and conceded that he embellished what happened during a now-infamous stop at a Rio gas station.

Swimsuit company Speedo USA, clothing giant Ralph Lauren and skin-care firm Syneron-Candela issued statements less than three hours apart, all with the same message: Lochte is out. Before the day was done, Japanese mattress maker airweave followed suit, essentially wiping out Lochte's income away from the pool.

In addition, Speedo USA said $50,000 that would've gone to the 12-time Olympic medalist was being donated to Save The Children to benefit needy youngsters in Brazil.

"While we have enjoyed a winning relationship with Ryan for over a decade and he has been an important member of the Speedo team, we cannot condone behavior that is counter to the values this brand has long stood for," the prominent swimsuit company said. "We appreciate his many achievements and hope he moves forward and learns from this experience."

Ralph Lauren, which provided the Polo-branded attire worn by the U.S. team at the opening and closing ceremonies, said it would not be renewing the contract that provided Lochte with financial support leading up to Rio. The statement from airweave said it had a similar arrangement with the swimmer. Both stressed they would continue their support of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic teams.

Syneron-Candela offers a line of skin-treatment products that deal with issues such as wrinkle reduction.

"We hold our employees to high standards, and we expect the same of our business partners," the company said.

Lochte issued a statement through his public relations firm thanking Speedo USA for its long support. He did not immediately address the other companies dropping their endorsements.

"I respect Speedo's decision and am grateful for the opportunities that our partnership has afforded me over the years," Lochte said.

Initially, Lochte said he and three teammates -- Jack Conger, Gunnar Bentz and Jimmy Feigen -- were robbed after their taxi was pulled over by armed men posing as police just hours after the swimming competition ended in Rio de Janeiro.

That version quickly unraveled when police said the swimmers, who had attended a late-night party, never reported the incident to authorities and there was scant evidence of a robbery. Video surveillance emerged showing the athletes getting into a confrontation with armed security guards over alleged vandalism at the gas station when their taxi pulled over to let them use the restroom.

While there have been conflicting versions over whether the guards pulled their weapons on the swimmers, Lochte has since acknowledged he was highly intoxicated and that his behavior led to the confrontation, which resulted in the swimmers paying some $50 in U.S. and Brazilian currency before they were allowed to leave. The incident caused a furor in Rio, where street crime was a major issue heading into the games.

Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said he wasn't surprised by the decision since most of Lochte's marketing value was tied to campaigns prior to the Olympics.

"I would think it was an easy decision to cut ties now," Swangard said. "For someone like Lochte, he's really destroyed almost all of his short-term marketability. Brands can easily seek out other athletes for the next Olympic cycle."

The financial costs of losing Speedo and Ralph Lauren are likely to be only the first sanctions that await Lochte, whose antics tarnished a powerful showing by the American team and dominating news away from the stadiums and arenas in the final days of the Rio Games.

Both the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Swimming have indicated that Lochte will be punished, perhaps endangering the 32-year-old's hopes of competing in a fifth Olympics at Tokyo in 2020. He could also face criminal charges in Brazil, where the other swimmers were initially barred from leaving the country until they were interviewed by authorities.

Feigen wound up donating just under $11,000 to a Brazilian nonprofit sports organization to settle any potential legal action. Bentz issued a statement saying Lochte tore a sign off a wall at the gas station and got into a heated exchange with the security officers, though Bentz denied the swimmers did any damage to a locked bathroom as authorities alleged.

In the last of three interviews with NBC that included ever-changing accounts of the incident, Lochte apologized and acknowledged he "over-exaggerated the story." He made a similar mea culpa to Brazil's main broadcaster, Globo.

Long one of the most popular U.S. athletes, the laid-back swimmer is known for his trademark saying "Jeah!" and such antics as wearing diamond grillz on the medal stand and dying his hair a silvery color before the Rio Games. Lochte also starred in a short-lived reality television show after the 2012 Olympics.

For these games, he qualified in only one individual event, finishing fifth in the 200-meter individual medley, far behind longtime rival Michael Phelps. Lochte did help Phelps and the Americans win gold in the 4x200 freestyle relay.

AP business writers Mae Anderson and Candice Choi in New York and editor Amy Finkelstein in Chicago contributed to this report.