Geoff Cameron has opened up about the U.S. national team's failure to qualify for the World Cup, criticizing former coach Bruce Arena's tactics while bemoaning a loss of "ambition and sense of progress."
The U.S. won't be playing in Russia next summer after a 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago in October on the final day of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying saw the Americans eliminated from contention.
Cameron started four of the first five qualifiers after Arena took over from Jurgen Klinsmann in November 2016 but was benched for the final three, including the decisive loss in Trinidad.
Having previously slammed Arena's decision-making over the final matches of qualifying, Cameron expanded on those remarks and voiced his larger concerns with U.S. Soccer in a piece written for The Players' Tribune .
"It was almost incomprehensible, you know?" Cameron said. "It was pure embarrassment and shame. It was the most depressing moment I've had in my entire career.
"Everyone wanted to know how. How could we lose to Trinidad & Tobago with the World Cup on the line? But to me, the problems run deeper than just one game.
"Over the past year, U.S. Soccer has gone back in time. For too long, we have seen a revolving-door system. We saw the return of an old-school regime, one that may have worked a decade ago, but not now. Not anymore.
"One that did not adapt to a changing soccer culture. One that couldn't lead a team — that despite what some may feel — had plenty of talent and depth. And this was a regime that certainly wasn't equipped to lead us to the next level and the next phase in U.S. Soccer.
"After Jurgen Klinsmann was fired, and Bruce Arena took over, we got too comfortable. We lost our ambition and sense of progress. But more than anything, we lost any sense of competitiveness."
Cameron specifically took aim at Arena's decision to play a 4-1-3-2 formation against Trinidad & Tobago, with Michael Bradley as the lone defensive midfielder in front of center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler.
Although the U.S. had used that formation to great success in a 4-0 win over Panama four days earlier in Orlando, Florida, Cameron questioned repeating such an aggressive tactic on a waterlogged field in Trinidad when the Americans only needed a draw to qualify for Russia.
"He threw his two central defenders under the bus — after the single most depressing day of all of our careers — because they 'couldn't dribble out of the back' on one of the worst pitches I've ever trained on," Cameron said of Arena.
"You throw your own players under the bus? When we played a 4-1-3-2? When we only needed one point? One freaking point. To go to the World Cup."
Having already told The New York Times he believed the U.S. would have qualified if Klinsmann had stayed on as coach, Cameron praised the German legend's mentality when it came to encouraging players to test themselves abroad.
"I had my differences with Jurgen over the years, but the one thing you cannot deny is that Jurgen and his staff brought a sense of true professional competitiveness and ambition to the national team," Cameron said.
"The real difference was that Jurgen challenged guys to push themselves to the absolute limits. He encouraged them to go play abroad in the top leagues, even if they didn't speak the language, or were going to have to scratch and claw to get minutes.
"That was the whole point, actually. He created a mindset of never letting yourself get too comfortable. He held us to a higher standard."
Dave Sarachan has served as the national team's interim coach since Arena stepped down in October, with U.S. Soccer declining to hire a permanent boss until after a new federation president is elected Saturday in Orlando.
With former players Kyle Martino, Eric Wynalda, Hope Solo and Paul Caligiuri joined on the ballot by executives Kathy Carter and Carlos Cordeiro and lawyers Steve Gans and Michael Winograd , Cameron hopes to see a new regime follow through on Klinsmann's mindset.
"Our best young players need to be playing in the top European leagues. Period," Cameron said. "It shouldn't be looked at as a negative thing.
"It should be a huge source of pride to send a 20-year-old American kid to play in the Bundesliga or the Premier League. Even better if they came up in MLS for a few years.
"Right now, those future World Cup stars are 16 and 17 years old, playing in America. We need to groom those players in our system until they hit their ceiling, and then we need to encourage them to get on a plane and on to the next challenge.
"We need a president and a national team manager who embrace that mentality."