You may have heard that the United States will miss out on the 2018 World Cup, as Bruce Arena’s squad was shockingly eliminated from qualification after a 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night.
As surprising as the failure is, the writing may have been on the wall. Before Tuesday’s stunning result, the U.S. were beaten by Costa Rica at home and were awful in Honduras during the August and September qualifiers. The team was awful on the road throughout qualification and didn’t win a single game in “the Hex” away from home.
They’ll now miss the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
With such a disastrous turn of events for U.S. Soccer, there is bound to be plenty of collateral damage. Here’s a look at those who stand to lose the most now that the Americans are staying home next summer.
FOX Sports paid $200 million for World Cup rights and this is their first kick at the can. It may now be tougher to get local advertisers on board without the Red, White and Blue taking part. Additionally, FOX Sports hoped that taking over the World Cup rights would help them close the gap with ESPN, the previous rights holder. Now it might widen it.
Nike will also be hurt by the U.S.’s absence as the athletic wear giant just extended their deal with the national teams until 2022. But Nike will still outfit the majority of teams in the World Cup, including powerful nations like Portugal, England and France. For FOX, the U.S. was their biggest, and only, horse in the race.
Those against goal-line technology
The U.S. men’s national team was the subject of discussion regarding a potential appeal against a “phantom goal” Panama scored Tuesday to help them beat Costa Rica and qualify for the World Cup.
Roger Gonzalez of CBSSports.com reported the potential of an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which states the body “shall be entitled to hear appeals against final decisions passed by CONCACAF.”
If Panama had tied Costa Rica, it would have given them 11 points and meant they would’ve missed out on the World Cup rather than the U.S.
The lack of goal-line technology in Panama could mean the landscape of the 2018 World Cup field is changed. The United States is a powerful federation. There will now be more momentum in the camp that is in favour of expansion of the field to 48 teams, but the real discussion will start about making goal-line technology mandatory at the qualifying stage. I think we know how U.S. Soccer will be voting on this issue.
The Golden Generation
This was the group that was supposed to usher in the new era of U.S. Soccer, transforming the program from a building entity to a national power. Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, DaMarcus Beasley and Chris Wondolowski surely won’t be around in 2022. Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Geoff Cameron will either be approaching, or in their mid-thirties. However, they probably shouldn’t be involved for the lead up to that tournament and U.S. Soccer should turn the page. They were part of great American triumphs like the miracle 2009 Confederations Cup run and two five-match unbeaten streaks against rival Mexico. But ultimately, they collectively weren’t good enough and likely won’t get a chance to change that script.
Formerly an Icelandic under-21 player, Johannsson left his Icelandic roots to play for the United States in the hopes of a better chance for World Cup glory since he was born in Mobile, Ala., before his parents moved back to Iceland when he was three.
Now Iceland is heading to the World Cup for the first time in its history and the U.S. is on the outside looking in.
Johannsson has had an injury-riddled campaign and a lack of form in front of goal so he may not have made the American team anyway, but the gamble to wear an American crest because CONCACAF was an easier route to qualify backfired.
Former U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsman was critical of star players Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, Brad Guzan, Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones and Jozy Altidore for leaving European clubs to play in MLS. The theory behind it was that in order to compete on the international level against the best players in the world, Americans had to compete with the best players in the world at club level. Klinsman was then criticized for downplaying the importance of having homegrown talent in MLS to inspire football locally.
You can argue whether or not there is a correlation between the players returning to the U.S. and the national team under-performing, but from an optics standpoint it doesn’t look good. TFC definitely benefits as their designated players won’t be leaving in the middle of the season next year, but MLS loves to quote the number of players they have starting on World Cup sides. That number took a huge hit Tuesday night.
Christian Pulisic is the best American player in the world, and he just turned 19 years old. He’ll likely become the best American player ever. After recently being featured on 60 minutes in North America, the 2018 World Cup was the chance for the great American hype to be seen on the big stage.
Although he’s already an impact player in the German Bundesliga and usually starts for Borussia Dortmund in the UEFA Champion League, Pulisic is not yet a household name home or abroad. But with model looks and flare for the dramatic on the field, it’s only a matter of time before he breaks through and becomes part of the American celebrity culture.
That process would have been accelerated if “the American Messi” got the chance to play and be profiled on the sport’s biggest platform. Pulisic was brilliant throughout qualifying and tried to drag his veteran teammates to the tournament by scoring his ninth goal in 20 international matches versus Trinidad and Tobago. Of the 17 goals the U.S. scored in qualification, he was involved in 12.
Ultimately, Pulisic was let down by the senior members of the squad. Through no fault of his own, part of the youngster’s legacy will now be missing out on his first chance to play in the World Cup.
Bruce Arena will get much of the blame, but U.S. Soccer’s problems go higher up the food chain. The issues with the federation are systematic and start with the president, Sunil Gulati.
The team has has gone through a few different managers in recent years but keep getting the same mediocre results. It’s inexcusable that a country of 323 million people can’t produce a team capable of qualifying from a region that doesn’t boast any soccer powers. When you consider that Iceland, a country with a population of 330,000, was able to qualify from the much tougher UEFA region, it only magnifies the failings of a U.S. program that has missed two Olympics and will now miss a World Cup.
The U.S. made over $100 million after hosting the Copa America tournament in 2016. Gulati is already dealing with an anti-trust lawsuit with the North American Soccer League. The pay-to-play system has players paying the federation money but the federation hasn’t developed world class players with that influx of money. Their best player, Pulisic, went abroad when he was 15 and his family kept him out of sports specialized activity before that.
Youth participation in the U.S. grew nine per cent in 2014 as young kids watched America compete in the World Cup in Brazil. Next June, they’ll lose out on capturing a generation of young soccer minds in the competitive North American sports landscape and that loss falls at the feet of Gulati.
There is an election for the presidency of the federation coming up in February, and this result doesn’t help Gulati’s candidacy, if he chooses to run.