United States Fails to Qualify for World Cup

Alden Glass, Sports Writer

The United States, a country of over 300 million people, failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after a dismal loss to Trinidad and Tobago. Out of the CONCACAF region, Mexico and Costa Rica will be joined by Panama in Russia next summer, while Honduras gets a chance to come along if they can beat Australia in a playoff.

To put the ridiculousness of the failure to qualify in more concrete terms, Iceland, a country with a population half the size of the Boise, Idaho metropolitan area, is going to the World Cup after beating the likes of Turkey, Ukraine and Croatia.

As teams across the world finish their qualifying campaigns for next Summer’s World Cup, I have spent a significant amount of time reflecting on the United States’ performance in the 2014 edition. The U.S. was drawn into the group of death with Ghana (the team that knocked us out in 2010), Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, and the eventual champions Germany.

Expectations were accordingly set low and most pundits prepared the U.S. for an early exit. Yet with a significant amount of luck, the implosion of the Ghanaian team, an injured Cristiano Ronaldo, and a seemingly bored Germany, the United States managed to sneak out a second place finish and move to the Round of 16.

In the Round of 16 the team’s lack of quality was exposed by an immensely talented Belgian team, and without the heroics of goalkeeper Tim Howard, the final score would have been 4 or 5 to nothing, rather than the more respectable 2-1 scoreline.

After bowing out in the knockout stages, there was a good deal of optimism surrounding U.S. Men’s Soccer. While the World Cup performances had not been top class, the team had pulled results out against the very best teams in the world. There was a solid mix of veterans and new talent to choose from. Just over three years later, however, that optimism has vanished along with our tickets to Russia for next summer.

Looking ahead, there seem to be two clear paths forward. One would see the United States Soccer Federation, Major League Soccer, and all of the many club teams across the country, come together to rebuild a national system of youth development that stresses technical ability and game smarts rather than pure athleticism. This was the model that Germany utilized in the wake of disappointing performances in the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championships.

The second approach, and the one I fear is most likely, is for the United States Men’s National Team to continue in the same vein. A much larger proportion of USSF money should be spent on youth coaching and programs to allow American coaches to train in Europe.

Luckily the Bruce Arena Experiment 2.0 is over, but the new coach—who has not yet been hired—must be ready to make tough decisions such as dropping players like Michael Bradley and Tim Howard, who are both past their prime. And for the love of all that is holy in this world, make sure Christian Pulisic stays happy and continues to develop into the superstar he can become.