I can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. You’re reading this because: neither can you.
Going in to Tuesday night’s game against Trinidad and Tobago, the US held their destiny in their hands. Win, and they go to the World Cup in Russia. Tie, and... they go to the World Cup in Russia. Even if they lost, the US would need the right set of bad circumstances - Honduras beating Mexico, and Panama beating Costa Rica - to be eliminated outright, without even heading to a two-legged playoff against Australia.
Well, the stars aligned for ill.
The US will not be going to the World Cup in Russia in 2018.
I can hardly believe I typed that even as I stare at the words on the screen. I have re-read that sentence eight times now because it hardly even registers in my brain.
There will be recriminations. Fury. Bitterness. Obscenity. Pitchforks will be lit.
Blame will be cast. It’s Jurgen’s fault. It’s Bruce’s fault. Sunil. Omar. Jozy.
Folks will say MLS is to blame, for not having a high enough standard of play to prepare these players, and for being slow to develop strong youth academies, and for blocking promotion and relegation. Folks will say US Soccer is to blame, for pay-to-play, and inadequate coaching, and spending money on facilities instead of people. Folks will blame CONCACAF, for having a referee that called a goal for Panama that did not, in any way shape or form, go into the net. Folks will blame FIFA, for giving Europe 18 slots for the World Cup while CONCACAF has 3 1/2. Folks will blame the NCAA for being a poor developing ground for soccer.
To a great extent, much of this is true, and a thorough and complete analysis will need to be done by all parties involved to fix what is wrong in American soccer. How can a country this large and this rich, with 3 million youth soccer players, develop such a disappointing and underperforming men’s national team? How did the US get only 3 wins in 10 games - and zero wins on the road - in the Hex? Smart people will need to ask some hard questions, and those in charge must recognize that the answers had better be frank, honest, and forthright.
There are also voices out there in the world that think the US missing the World Cup is a good thing. A little wake-up call for the US, a bit of cold water splashed on our faces. The system needed to crash in order to get a hard reboot. That, I reject. Next summer, millions of Americans will turn on their TVs, see that the US is not at the World Cup, and either turn them back off again, or tune in to watch while making the assumption that America just “isn’t good at soccer” or that “it’s really a Latino thing” or somesuch other nonsense. The game will not get the love and exposure that will increase its profile in America. Kids that might have watched Christian Pulisic or Jozy Altidore become heroes will instead be watching Nolan Arenado or Trevor Siemian. This loss is epicly, tragicly, catastrophically bad for soccer in this country, and even if it results in a radical rethinking of the entire American soccer system, on balance, the US men missing the World Cup is a terrible thing.
There are lots of fingers to point, and there is lots of work to be done before 2022. For the next few days, though, we should simply shake our heads and stare at the smoking crater of our dreams, and just take those first tentative steps forward in wrapping our minds around this event, the greatest failure in American soccer history.