USMNT at a Crossroads

Story by Ben Sanders

It has taken me over a week, but I have finally, sort of, calmed down from the international embarrassment of the United States Men’s National Team failing to qualify for 2018 World Cup in Russia. The last time the USA failed to qualify was in 1986 when soccer was not a socially acceptable sport in this country.

The issue isn’t just the lack of presence at the World Cup, but the stifling of a generation of players right when the sport has started to skyrocket with Major League Soccer and the United Soccer League expanding exponentially. Fox Sports spent $400 million for the World Cup television rights to broadcast about a team that will be watching on the couch from home.

I never believed I would ever, ever agree with Alexi Lalas about anything, but the lack of urgency and the level of complacency is extremely worrying. The 4-0 rout of Panama in the penultimate game of the Hex notwithstanding, the USMNT put in lackluster performances against nations like Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago, both of which lack the resources and talent pool the USA possesses.

The USMNT do not have a Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo or Neymar caliber player in its midst, so being arrogant and taking a game off is unacceptable and embarrassing. The team got to its dizzying heights of 2014 by being tenacious and displaying fight and work ethic.

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I abandoned supporting my home nation of England to root for the Americans in 2014 as England has been going through the same patch of mediocrity and arrogance for over a decade and placing the aspirations of a nation on Wayne Rooney.

Putting the weight of a nation consisting of more than 325 million people on the shoulders of a 19-year-old was a tragic oversight as teams in COCACAF started to figure out how Christian Pulisic plays, where he likes to receive the ball, and track the runs he makes into the attacking third.

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Bruce Arena and Jurgen Klinsmann both made key strategic errors like omitting Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron from the starting lineup.

To quote Taylor Twellman, “What are we doing?”

It may be insane to still have hope for international recognition in the soccer world, but remember the United States Women National team have re-tooled and started to rebound since its shock exit in the 2016 Olympics. Alex Morgan and company are once again knocking off teams by four or more goals with relative ease. Young starlet Mallory Pugh looks to be the real deal with six goals in 28 matches, despite her young age.

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Additionally, two of the USMNT youth teams, U-17 and U-20, reached the quarter-finals of its respective World Cup tournaments with highly touted youngsters such as Josh Sargent and European-based youngsters like Lynden Gooch, Emerson Hyndman and Gedion Zelalem. Unfortunately, fans of US Soccer will have to wait until Qatar 2022 to see if these players emerge as stars on an international stage in a competitive tournament. The United States were one of only two teams to do so along with England.

Just remember the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Let’s hope US Soccer and its players learn from this mistake and allow these young players to develop with a solid foundation going into the future.

Featured image for this post courtesy of YouTube clips courtesy of Footy Vlogs and NARLtv.


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