This isn’t just some hot take. This isn’t just me being a prisoner of the moment. Considering the circumstances, what was all at stake, and (respectfully) the opponent, last night was the worst lost in US Soccer’s history. This team had everything to play for against an inferior foe that only had pride on the line. It is inexcusable that the USMNT didn’t qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup when you consider the resources and talent pool they have in respect to other nations in the region.
Obviously, money will be lost by missing out on the competition in Russia, from Fox Sports to bars in cities across the country. Exposure to players and the sport itself will be greatly effected in a devastating way. As a country, outside of the avid fans who watch MLS, Premier League, Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League, etc., the World Cup is the time when casual fans of the sport tune in and get to see United States soccer players compete against the world’s best. That type of exposure can be used as momentum to further the development of the MLS. And can also further the demand for TV broadcasting of top European leagues. On top of the collective publicity for the sport as a whole, it is a time for the players themselves to gain even more of a mainstream and household recognition. Christian Pulisic was poised to take that next step and become among the most popular (and marketable) athletes in the US. There would have been countless kids who would have been dribbling a soccer ball saying “I want to be like Pulisic” if this team would have been there in Russia. But all of those opportunities are gone now.
I remember a local restaurant that was always great for catching a game, Stadium Grille, opening early in the morning during the 2002 WC. They would open their doors and serve food at ridiculous times in the very early hours of the morning just so people could watch. As an 11 year old, my dad would take me there before he had to head off to work so we could cheer on the US together.
I remember being in a hotel lobby in Indiana on my way to an archery tournament in Iowa when I saw Landon Donovan score a vital last-second goal against Algeria in the 2010 WC. I told my mom we couldn’t leave to continue our drive to Des Moines until the game was over.
I remember being at Firefly Music Festival watching under a crowded tent when Clint Dempsey put the US up late vs Portugal during the 2014 WC. I was hugging, jumping, and chanting along with complete strangers.
I remember being on an island in Alaska, where I stopped in a restaurant attached to the only hotel there, watching the US give a gutsy performance vs a talented Belgium squad during the 2014 WC. I was fortunate enough to even catch the game, considering I only had a small window of time I would be on the island before heading back to sea on the ferry with no reception at all.
2018 will be void of those memories. And not just for myself, but for those kids, young soccer players, that were like me and wanted to have a team and idol(s) to fall in love with from our country by seeing them play on the world’s biggest stage.
The blame isn’t solely on one person or one ideology. The problems have been systemically bred from a culture, mentality, and political power struggle from the very top down the grassroots level of the United States Soccer Federation. People like Sunil Gulati, Bruce Arena, and the players themselves each share some level of fault. Strategies put forth in the youth and professional development as well. Even the player selection process of who makes the roster is flawed, which is probably not resulting in the best squad the country can possibly assemble. And the generation of players who failed to qualify for the past two Olympics and never put pressure on the senior team to take their spots on the roster or starting XI. Those senior players were never challenged the way a highly-drafted rookie QB challenges the veteran starter for his job. It is a combination of all of that, plus even more aspects, that led to this.
Ultimately, it is now a time of self-reflection for US Soccer. Many things need to change. Strategies and personal need to be questioned hard. Whether it is to somehow combat “pay-to-play” and the money-grabbing scheme that has completely altered youth sports in this country to a level that has shifted the main focus away from the purity of sport or replacing the management/executives/coaches of the federation, change is imminent. US Soccer woke up today realizing their worst nightmare wasn’t just a cruel fantasy in their sleep; it is reality. And we all should be watching intently, demanding action, as to what solutions they put forth to try to prevent it from ever happening again.