American soccer is dead. After losing 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago on Oct. 10, the US Men’s National Team (USMNT) was eliminated from the 2018 World Cup.
The United States has never been the model of soccer development and achievement in soccer. Basketball? Sure. Football? A sport that is only really popular in America. Soccer is the primary sport for the majority of countries worldwide, so America’s shortcomings in soccer are understandable.
However, coming up short to the top nations in the world—like Germany, Brazil, and Spain—is entirely different from failing to qualify for the World Cup. For the first time since 1986, the USMNT will not partake in the World Cup.
Going into their final match of the group stages, the U.S. was all but a shoe-in to qualify and head to Russia next summer for the World Cup. A win or draw, and they would have moved on. Even if they lost, Panama and Honduras also had to win to prevent the U.S. from qualifying. And what happened? All three of these outcomes combined to prevent the USMNT from reaching the World Cup.
America was the 28th ranked team in the world, while Trinidad and Tobago were ranked 99th. The U.S. may lack the star power of European and South American superpowers, but in comparison to Central American nations, the USMNT has an abundance of riches. Christian Pulisic is a transcendent talent, and most of the players on the U.S. roster are much more talented than their counterparts on other CONCACAF teams.
So what is lacking? Why does the USMNT lose to inferior teams? They only won three out of ten games in their group, which is both pathetic and disappointing for America.
“The gloves should have been off years ago. We should have been having real criticism. And the discussion after Brazil was, ‘Can we beat the Colombias and the Belgiums and the Argentinas of the world?’ Are you kidding me? We can’t beat Trinidad on a field that’s too wet and too heavy! What are we doing?” ranted Taylor Twellman, an ex-USMNT player and current ESPN analyst.
Whether or not the United States qualified for the World Cup, structural flaws in the youth development system of America have become more pronounced over the years. The U.S. only has five players on the roster between the ages of 23 and 27, suggesting a flaw that has failed to produce a good product of players. To some people, Pulisic is the greatest American soccer player of all-time, but the team must surround him with even more talent if they want to rebuild the system.
American soccer has an inferior product because players are not developed at young ages; instead the focus is placed on spending exorbitant amounts of money to join a club or travel team. On these teams, the focus is on winning rather than skill development.
“We have to get to a point in the U.S. where, when you are a good young player interested in the game, the first thing you get handed isn’t an invoice for several thousand dollars,” said U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati, two years ago.
This reveals the systemic inadequacies in American youth soccer, where more focus is paid to win rather than fundamental skill development and advancing from there. The United States have become satisfied with mediocrity, believing it’s acceptable to simply reach the World Cup and win a game or two. Settling for mediocrity has now caught up with them, and losing to far inferior teams is occurring more frequently now.
The lone bright aspect of failing to reach the World Cup is that it will force America to completely rebuild the soccer system from the ground up. As a nation, we have hit rock bottom in the world of soccer, but when you tumble to such depths, it forces reconstruction, a reconstruction that eventually may help American soccer in the long run.
American soccer has died, but the rebirth will soon begin as the future holds a lot of promise. Pulisic, at only 19 years old, will be around for years to come, and the U-17 team has loads of talent, as they made it to the quarterfinals of the U-17 World Cup before bowing out to England on Saturday.
The future is bright, and remember, you can always cheer for the women.