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World Cup failure will leave US Soccer shellshocked for years

The unthinkable has happened. The United States will miss the 2018 World Cup.

Needing just a point at Trinidad and Tobago – or even a slice of luck in Panama or Honduras – the U.S. fell behind 2-0 in the first half and watched a nightmare unfold.

Honduras came from 2-1 down to beat Mexico 3-2. Panama came back from 1-0 down to draw level with Costa Rica, and then, in an instant, fired themselves into their first ever World Cup with an 88th minute goal from center back Roman Torres.

That was it. For the first time since 1986, the U.S. will miss the world’s greatest sporting event. The party will go on without them. But for soccer in this country, time has stopped.

Failure to qualify for the World Cup is cataclysmic. The result – a bloodbath unlike anything U.S. Soccer has ever seen – is forthcoming.

Bruce Arena will be gone. The international careers of a cadre of U.S. legends – Dempsey, Howard, and Beasley – will be over. Sunil Gulati, the boss for more than a decade, might not survive either.

His favorite son, Jurgen Klinsmann, lost the team to start the Hex and put the U.S. in a hole. His handpicked replacement, Arena, never quite figured out the fix.

Arena had a particularly bad night. His decision to name an unchanged team from the win over Panama on Friday backfired. The U.S. was painfully sluggish to start, and paid dearly.

Squad selection – and Omar Gonzalez over Geoff Cameron was a disaster – was one thing. More than that, though, the team didn’t come out with any kind of desire. The effort in the first half was anemic. Whether that was pressure or a lack thereof speaking, we don’t know. Not that it matters much.

This team’s failure went beyond its managers. This was one of the most talented groups of players the U.S. has ever had. It featured a transcendent player in Christian Pulisic, but it also was also stacked with World Cup veterans and emerging talent.

Those players didn’t get the job done. Trinidad came into Tuesday night 1-8 in the Hex, losers of six straight. They had nothing to play for. They barely had anyone to play in front of.

As far as qualifying closeout games go, this was a gift. The U.S. blew it.

All told, the U.S. took just three points from their five away games. They lost more Hex qualifiers than they won. They finished behind two teams – Panama and Honduras – who they beat by a combined score of 10-0 in home qualifiers.

SEE MORE: Blame Sunil Gulati for USA’s failure, not the players nor Bruce Arena

In the end, they let themselves down. Qualifying for the World Cup is no country’s divine province, and the U.S. – under the direction of two drastically different coaches, across nearly a full year – weren’t consistent or tenacious enough.

That stings. No matter what kind of shape they’d been in over the last several decades, the U.S. had always been reliable. They’d have their good and bad moments, but they could be counted on when the chips were down in CONCACAF. Not anymore.

It is, of course, a different story today if we have video review and Gabriel Torres’ phantom goal for Panama isn’t given. It’s a different story if Clint Dempsey’s shot hits the other side of the post, or Benny Feilhaber’s header sneaks in.

But you don’t always get lucky, and the game has a funny sense of justice. After knocking Panama out in 2013, Panama tonight returned the favor. After the U.S. saved Mexico in 2013, Mexico tonight in Honduras did not.

Gonzalez said post-game that his own goal “will haunt [him] forever.” Jozy Altidore couldn’t speak above a whisper. Those players will never get over this. Never. It will be with them, no matter what, for the rest of their lives.

For everyone else, the enormity of a missed World Cup – in dollars and eyeballs and experiences – will reverberate in the coming days.

Pulisic, perhaps the only American player above reproach on Tuesday night and throughout qualifying, will have to wait for his bow on the world’s biggest stage. Some of these players, the McCartys, the Villafañas, will never get theirs.

Whether or not the team deserved to qualify, that’s heartbreaking. The World Cup is a universal touchstone in world soccer. Without it, a page from the story of countless careers will be missing.

The wind has been strongly at the back of soccer in the United States since Paul Caligiuri’s Shot Heard Round The World – also in Trinidad, also on the final day of qualifying – nearly thirty years ago.

There have been squabbles and missteps, but progress has been steady. The game has grown immeasurably, with the national team, every fourth summer, rousing the nation and leading the way.

That progress has been broken now. Not dismantled, by any means, but broken. In the long run, that might be a good thing. It might not. We’ll be sorting the repercussions from this failure out for years to come.

In the short run, though, it is nothing but agony. For the players, the coaches, and everyone who has ever banged the drum for the game in this country, it is boundless devastation.

The next World Cup the United States will have a chance to participate in will be hosted by Qatar in 2022. It feels a lifetime away.

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  1. Lawrence Dockery

    October 11, 2017 at 2:07 pm

    I would argue that we are in a position today where it’s not a death knell, but it sure isn’t helping anything.

  2. Notorious Furn

    October 11, 2017 at 12:29 pm

    Lots of issues…but last night the players and coach had one thing to do and failed. Simple. Much needs fixed and that needs to happen. But watching this team (besides Christian) look like they would rather be somewhere else last night….tough to watch.

    • Chris

      October 11, 2017 at 1:19 pm

      I would say that Yedlin played well and others did at times. Overall not an uplifting performance overall. Christian as non-existent the first half, so I think you can say all in reality didn’t look like they wanted to be there.

      • Notorious Furn

        October 11, 2017 at 1:47 pm

        It really is sadly amazing that you aren’t up for that game

        • Chris

          October 11, 2017 at 6:26 pm

          Dude, the announcers were like they didn’t even want to be there either. Some chalk it up to entitlement which might be accurate, but when ESPN or FoxSports doesn’t even send someone down to do a Pre-Game in country for a major and deciding game, even if they are NOT televising it, speaks volumes as to why players may not be “up”. The country has to show that they actually give a rat’s backside. That’s a ding on the players, the media, and the country as a whole. The fact of the matter is that maybe only 10% of the population of the US even knows the US had a game last night…

    • David

      October 11, 2017 at 1:26 pm

      Last night was brutal to watch. The USMNT were playing like it was a meaningless friendly after a long summer holiday.

      • Notorious Furn

        October 11, 2017 at 1:51 pm

        Watch Australia (and the aging but awesome/effective Tim Cahill) highlights from last night. You want guts and wanting to make the Cup? Watch it.
        It’s against Syria, make of it what you will, but the energy and passion? Whole other level. actually…watch any other game besides the USA…and you’ll see some of what we are missing. Much deeper than passion though

  3. francis

    October 11, 2017 at 12:25 pm

    After 30 years of running w/ the big boys, evidently the US is not as good as they think they are. Outside of a handful of goalies and Donovan, Dempsey and now Pulisic, there have been no truly world-class players. Sure youth participation is high in the US, but the perception is still that youth soccer is a country-club operation for kids that are too small/uncoordinated to play football,baseball or basketball

  4. Chris

    October 11, 2017 at 11:59 am

    Well written article and opinion piece. I think the tone reflects how many of us feel today.

    I also think in the long run this can be good for US Men’s soccer. The fact that none of the major networks worked out a deal with Trinidad and Tobago to carry the qualifying games reflects the state of US Soccer over all. EVERY game should be covered on a regular national network, not some fly by night beIN sports network where the announcer could not even keep track of the number of substitutions the US had made. I know it is only a coincidence, but both games the US played by that network were a disaster. It was like the players knew that nobody was watching, nobody, but the few that could actually see the game were cheering them on. I get it, at this level the players shouldn’t need any extra motivation to win, but it does help to know that millions back home are watching and cheering you on. There was not even a Pre-Game on FoxSports or ESPN or NBC Sports that I could find. Basically the televised sports media abandoned them and the fans in crucial games.

    No, that is not the reason the team lost. I am not saying that at all, but had this been any other sport, the US Sports media would have a pre-game and post game on site. This was a huge game, but the US Sports media treated it just like any other Tuesday.

    In the end this is not the time to point fingers and lay blame. While there is plenty to go around, instead it is is time to take stock, thank those that have given so much to the sport like Dempsey, Howard, Cameron, Beasley, and others and begin to build toward 2022 and beyond. We have the advantage right now, because everyone else is focused on Russia. (Half jokingly saying this, but it is true.)

    The pieces are there, but we need more and I think we can get more. Maybe not as deep and as seasoned, but they are there. We have to continue to improve our efforts to develop the talent necessary to WIN, not just get to a World Cup. For too long the goal has been to be competitive on that stage, but I say this is the time to move that bar to WINNING on that stage. Winning Gold at the Olympics and winning the World Cup. America, if it sets its mind to it, can accomplish anything. So far, America as a whole has been too easy to dismiss soccer as what the rest of the world plays and content to participate. Americans have to change their mindset as a country for this to happen though.

    Our domination on the women’s side has not helped the men’s side at all. I root for both teams equally, but the men’s failure to ascend I think has also hurt the women’s side as they have faltered a bit recently as well. Maybe as interest in the NFL dwindles, Americans will discover how exciting soccer can be. Maybe they will realize it is not nearly as complicated as they might think, definitely no more complicated than hockey or the new rules in the NFL or NCAA football.

  5. dstorm

    October 11, 2017 at 11:48 am

    US Soccer was already on the demise – I disagree that this will have a long-lasting negative impact. This same pool of players came up watching the US teams make the World Cup. But they still weren’t good enough.

    Think about it – Our Olympic team has failed to qualify for the men’s tournament for the last 2 Olympics. Those players should be the future of the national team and can’t advance through CONCACAF.

    A full re-set is needed. And we need to figure out why our national team can’t come out and play with any sort of passion in a must-win game. I think Alexi Lalas may have been right. We’ve got the wrong players in the system – too entitled. Everyone took it for granted that we would make the World Cup.

    So this doesn’t set us back….we were already heading down the wrong path. This in my view accelerates the ‘start over’ phase that is desperately needed.

    The biggest loser here is Fox Sports – which I’m certain we’ll be hearing more of on this site in the weeks to come. How do they pare back their investment for Russia?

    • Chris

      October 12, 2017 at 10:33 am

      Fox will still probably do ok. If Argentina had not made it and there would be no Messi in the tournament, then I think they would have had a much more difficult time. If the USMNT playing is the only reason they grabbed the rights, then one would think they would have at least had a Pre-Game of some time before this last qualifying match, which they did not. I think they had UFC and something else on their sports channels.

      The biggest losers are the true American soccer fans hands down.

  6. NashRambler

    October 11, 2017 at 10:43 am

    Qatar 2022 will take place in November and December so even if the USA qualifies I’m afraid the 2022 World Cup will get lost in the shuffle in the United States among casual sports fans as the NFL, college football, NBA, and NHL will all be getting most of the media coverage.

    There won’t be a World Cup that occurs during the US summertime until 2026 so realistically there will be an 8 year gap from 2018 to 2026 until we have a World Cup (hopefully hosted by USA/Mexico/Canada) that dominates the US sports media and pop culture landscape across a 4 week period the way recent World Cup events have.

  7. Marc

    October 11, 2017 at 10:22 am

    How about sitting Bradley, OUR CAPTAIN, on the bench for a while??? Does he inspire anyone?
    Has he done anything since the goal against Mexico?? Anything??
    His free kicks are terrible and he hardly ever leads by any examples…..
    He is supposedly the centerpiece and heart of the team but he disappears more often than
    many other players yet he pays no consequences, he needs to go!!!

    • Chris

      October 11, 2017 at 12:07 pm

      While I agree that he at times has not played lights out, I don’t think pointing fingers at this time solves anything. This was a team loss. Period…through the entire cycle. I am not fan of Bradley, but not having him on the team doesn’t make the team better. He didn’t score an own goal to put the team in a hole early. Considering without the point in Mexico, the US could have been eliminated even with a tie last night. Bradley did not lose the game last night. You can argue he didn’t win it if you want, but that can be said of the entire team that was on the pitch. The team with the most heart was not on the pitch.

      I get it, you feel better by blaming someone. That’s what we do. But I would say it is time to look forward vice blaming. Bradley is still solid…and the US team needs solid players, some seasoned players, and over the next few years build a team that can not just qualify, but contend.

    • Charles

      October 11, 2017 at 12:34 pm

      On one hand, this loss could not be blamed solely on Michael Bradley. It was a team (lack of) effort, save for the shifts Pulisic and Dempsey put in. Secondly, Bradley was all too often the only man to cover two T&T players, which of course left a golf green sized hole in the center of the pitch. That’s on Bruce Arena and his horrible tactics.

      On the other hand, if Michael Bradley is the best USMNT mid-fielder, then they are utterly bereft of talent there. It’s hard to imagine him making most any European or South American squad, much less being an integral part of it.

      Bottom line, however, is the US showed a dire lack of will and focus in their most important match since they played Belgium three years ago in the World Cup. That’s on the players and the managers, and it’s on Suni Gulati for his failure to put the right systems in to create the USMNT.

  8. USA 4 Ever

    October 11, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Strange last night. It was like the USA team had been informed that they weren’t allowed to go to Russia. Full stop. All seemed a bit weird how the night played out.
    Whatever though. It was painful.

  9. jason

    October 11, 2017 at 9:55 am

    1) Major League Soccer seems to have benefitted the Caribbean and Central American nations more than the USA and Canada. MLS has made those nations better and they beat the USA more often now.

    2) I think the USA has a strong youth soccer culture in this nation. But it is at the point when kids reach the age of 13 is when things fall apart. We have to do better with developing our players once they become teenagers. The only chance they have seems to be if they go abroad like what Christain Pulisic did.

    3) I have lost interest in MLS in the past 2 years. We are seeing less American players stand out.

    4)Where the heck is our American goalkeepers!

    • Total Relegation

      October 11, 2017 at 10:47 am

      MLS should be concerned with putting the best players on the field, not best Americans on the field. Players get better by playing top-shelf competition, not over the hill DPs. Now is not the time to start blaming players from other countries playing in MLS.

    • Chris

      October 11, 2017 at 12:18 pm

      Jason, your first point is not truly relevant as that is NOT the goal of the MLS. In fact MLS needs to rely on the success of the USMNT to increase the interest in their league, not the development of US Soccer. US Soccer is in place to do that.

      For your second point, we do have a strong participation, but not a strong winning culture. We do have to do better in developing our players, but you just missed your point. Going abroad is what is best for the development of players to play on the world stage. Our best players right now ALL play for international clubs.

      Third point, not really relevant to the conversation, but I am the opposite. The MLS is more competitive and fun to watch than it has been in years. The product on the field is getting better. I don’t watch the MLS to see American’s stand out. I want them to stand out on the best teams they can get on. I watch Dortmund, Newcastle, and Stoke City. Guess what there are other Americans play on top level teams around the globe. They play there because they CAN and it is the best place to get better. The MLS might get there, but it won’t if you ONLY focus on American players. How do you think China and other countries have improved their Basketball National programs? Playing in their own leagues or having an influx of American players AND sending their players to the NBA…

      We do have a fantastic young talent on the bench, but he was not selected for this squad. Arena went with the veteran group. If you watch enough you will know that we do have some young talent in the wings at goal that will now step into the fold.

  10. Anthony

    October 11, 2017 at 9:48 am

    Devastating. I had a sick feeling the entire last 30 minutes of the match US match. There was no way Panama/Honduras were not going to win against disinterested opponents.

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