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Missing Out On World Cup Reflects Sad State Of U.S. Soccer

October 12, 2017
I told myself I'd need 24 hours to fully digest the lowest moment in U.S. soccer history before I'd really be willing to attempt to compose coherent thoughts about it. 

The reality is that a full day still didn't give me the opportunity to fully come to grips with the reality that there will be a World Cup next summer without an American presence. I guess my shock isn't as meaningful as whatever emotions they're experiencing at Fox, where $425 million doesn't get you what it used to. 

Make no mistake, the Americans losing their final qualifier to Trinidad and Tobago and missing out on the World Cup altogether is unquestionably the single-lowest moment in the history of the national program. It is unconscionable that U.S. Soccer can even be in this position. 

And yet, with the benefit of being more than 24 hours removed from my most emotional state regarding the gravity of the situation, I've sort of found myself thinking something more along the lines of "maybe this is about right." 

Maybe at the end of the day this is just the reality for U.S. Soccer. Maybe this program is never going to be a player on the international level despite America's overall sporting greatness and the ability to invest significant money in trying to improve. Maybe this country simply will never be able to catch up to other countries that have lived and breathed the sport for decades if not centuries more than America. Maybe we just don't have an inherent right to be good at everything in this country. 

None of that justifies how the U.S. men's national team could fail so spectacularly in CONCACAF qualifying. That remains equal parts inexplicable and inexcusable. But with World Cup fields expanding to 48 in 2026, it will be excruciatingly difficult for the U.S. to miss out on the World Cup much more in the future -- even when it struggles in qualifying. 

Everyone seems to have an opinion about what went wrong for the team this time around. Some people simply blame the players. Some think the program waited too long to fire former coach Jürgen Klinsmann. Others think Bruce Arena wasn't the right choice to replace him. More fingers have been pointed at U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati, who is ultimately responsible for shaping the national team. Even more say the issues that trouble U.S. Soccer begin at a far lower level, with youth programs not being run correctly in order to deliver senior talent to the national team. 

The reality is, of course, that at least some part of all of these issues are likely true. The program will almost certainly turn to a new coach and perhaps it is indeed time to move on from Gulati. I'm also all for re-considering how to go about finding talent and how to develop it. U.S. Soccer will have plenty of time to evaluate all of these areas with no pesky World Cup to trouble its 2018 calendars. 

But, ultimately, will there be enough to talent to identify and develop? We all know that one of the issues that has hampered American soccer is that too many athletes in this country simply choose other sports. There's no real reason to expect that to change. While current soccer dynamo Christian Pulisic could go a long way in garnering attention and helping make young people even more interested in the sport, American kids won't watch him participate in a World Cup for at least another five years. 

And if I had to venture a guess, we'll still be having many of these same conversations at that point. 

The truth is that the U.S. missed out on the World Cup by just one goal. Heck, they missed out by one goal that never was. It was a total disaster, but a disaster that was at least somewhat fluky in nature. 

The U.S. will probably make the 2022 World Cup. It will almost certainly end up hosting the 2026 version, which alone will get it in. But even so, fans will have plenty to complain about when it comes to American soccer. These issues just aren't going away. This time they conspired to create disaster. 

But as awful as it is, this is American soccer. It's really hard for me to remain angry or stunned. Soccer just might never be our strength here. At least not on the men's side, anyway.