Like many American soccer fans, I was in shock last night, as the U.S. Men’s National Team went from losing in their final qualifier but still about to sneak into the 2018 World Cup anyway from other results to actually having all those other results go against them, AND ALSO losing, ensuring they would miss out on the World Cup.
It was inconceivable.
The U.S. had qualified for seven World Cups in a row. The national team program was in better shape than it had ever been. CONCACAF qualifying is so easy compared to pretty much every other confederation.
Obviously, a lot of changes have to come from this. There are a ton of takes swimming around the internet today, calling for fixes, transformations, new policies. It’s obvious that changes will need to come, even if merely failing to reach the World Cup does not mean everything in place is broken, nor is it likely to result in rapid enough change given the power centers’ structures at present.
But to me, a lesson, one that has become sadly familiar if you are on one side of the American landscape is obvious: You cannot take anything for granted.
Literally all of us sleepwalked through U.S. qualification, and when it went down to the final agonizing 10 minutes, we were all in denial. The coach was in denial! The players did not comprehend! People paid to talk about the team on television were mute or standing around on camera, trying to come up with the words to express their reactions to what just happened.
There will be those who will yell above the fray, “I told you so!” out of this, and most of them will be full of it. Even someone like me, who supports the U.S. but doesn’t tend to live and die with every blow of every game, who kept saying in the days leading up to this game, “The job of reaching the World Cup is almost done” was completely dumfounded at what happened.
Of course, I should have known better. After all, I’m one of the thousands of soccer fans who followed a team that folded, a group that grows every year because for all of the progress of American soccer, there’s still far too much failure, too many fly-by-night operations, too many charlatans or naive powerbrokers who get in over their heads.
I think you can make an argument that the bubble of American club soccer growth and the prospects of the senior national team are in some ways connected and in others not at all linked. But if leagues and federations and fans are content to allow teams, even those terribly run or those that have simply run out of funding, to just disappear into the ether without so much as a shrug, we should all have been smart enough to understand that anything can happen, including the gravy train of the U.S. Men’s National Team failing, spectacularly, to finish as high as fourth in a six-team competition and not even make the World Cup.
It’s not much of a consolation, I know, but that’s how I see it. Don’t take anything for granted. What you regard as the gospel today could be gone altogether tomorrow. I’m someone who hates to conceive of the absolutes of “never” and “always” because we just don’t know what could happen in life. I really should have taken that to heart more as I watched the USMNT capitulate in Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!