Drew White | Staff Writer
Impossible. Unthinkable. Unbelievable.
These are just a few words to depict what’s going on inside of the heads of USA soccer fans following a stunning 2-1 loss at the hands of FIFA’s No. 99-ranked team, Trinidad and Tobago, on Oct. 10. The loss eliminated the United States from World Cup contention for the first time since 1986.
The U.S. went into the match with a two-point lead in their five-team qualifying table over both Panama and Honduras, and had a 92 percent chance of advancing to the World Cup prior to the Trinidad and Tobago match.
The team had faced its’ fair share of struggles throughout the qualifying process, but didn’t seem to be in true danger of failing to quality. Few could have expected what transpired from 8 to 10 p.m. Oct. 10.
In short: If it could have gone wrong, it did. An own goal in the game’s 17th minute and a long shot from Trinidad defender Alvin Jones curved past American keeper Tim Howard soon after, giving Trinidad and Tobago an early 2-0 lead.
Christian Pulisic gave the Americans life at the beginning of the second half with a goal from just outside the penalty area, and Clint Dempsey had numerous scoring opportunities toward the end of the match, but the United States were never able to tie the game.
Meanwhile, Panama beat Mexico 3-2, and Honduras beat Costa Rica in a 2-1 thriller, effectively ousting the United States from their hexagonal qualifying field, and thus, the World Cup.
Since the last time America missed the World Cup 31 years ago, there has been a steady climb in the game’s intrigue amongst citizens, and more importantly, the formation of a professional league came with the MLS’ birth in 1996.
Now, following a humiliating failure to qualify for the world’s foremost tournament, the country may face a deficit of youth interest in the sport.
The U.S. sits as the 27th-best soccer team in the world, even after to its monumental defeat. The Americans were not only supposed to be one of the top teams in their field; they were supposed to be a favorite to advance.
Now, for the sake of the program, as well as for the sake of the sport in the country, it’s time to hit the reset button.
Next summer’s World Cup was supposed to be the last run for greats Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey & Co, as well as the national emergence of 19-year-old phenom midfielder Christian Pulisic, but now, it’s time for the program as a whole to look at itself and figure out what’s gone awry.
Sunil Gulati, the president of the U.S. Soccer Federation, has made many questionable decisions over his past few years at the helm since his election in 2013. One that backfired was the hiring of head coach Bruce Arena, who has since stepped down following the Americans’ loss on Oct. 10.
In February, a new election for president of the Federation will take place, and it remains to be seen whether or not Gulati will be reelected. While Gulati has done some good things for U.S. soccer, it may be beneficial if he’s not reelected.
Another task on the ‘to-do list’ for the country’s soccer presence is to improve the MLS’ product. Saturated by weak rosters because of recent rapid expansion — four teams have joined the league since 2015, with Los Angeles FC set to join in 2018 followed by a Miami franchise in 2019 — foreign players coming in are being given more chances to develop than homegrown American players are.
The next World Cup for them is in 2022, and while people may reminisce of legends like Howard and Dempsey from time-to-time, it’s officially a transitioning period for the country’s soccer program.
With a new crop of players developing — some in the MLS, others in European leagues — players like Josh Sargent and Weston McKennie, who have showed glimpses of their potential recently, must continue to develop if the United States are to return to respectable form sooner than later.
Hopefully, when given their shot, younger stars will showcase their talent impressively for American fans that are currently listless.
On Nov. 14, the Americans will face Cristiano Ronaldo and Euro 2016 champion Portugal in an international friendly in Europe for their first match since their loss to Trinidad and Tobago, with another friendly expected to be announced soon for the same trip.
By then, the Americans will be under a new coaching staff, and a plethora of younger players figure to receive playing time as the U.S. looks to turn over a new leaf for their program.
As younger players work to usurp veterans for permanent spots on the national team, the road back for an evolving program starts now. Hopefully its countrymen take note.