Why the USMNT Needed to Miss the World Cup
Failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup may have been beneficial to the development of U.S. Soccer.
Updated: Oct. 15, 2017 • 11:07 AM ET
Bruce Arena's latest sting with the USMNT hasn't gone according to plan.
Yes, you read that headline right. The USMNT has missed the chance to play in Russia after a humiliating defeat at the hands of Trinidad and Tobago last Tuesday. For the first time in more than 20 years, the United States will not participate on the biggest stage in sports. And though many fans are ashamed and embarrassed by the events that have taken place, perhaps missing the World Cup is simply a necessary obstacle for the future of soccer in America. Perhaps, missing the World Cup is exactly what the U.S. needed.
The truth is, the U.S. had seen very little if any improvement since being knocked out by Belgium at the last World Cup. The U.S. managed to make it out of the group of death, which contained European heavyweights Portugal and Germany, as well as U.S. kryptonite Ghana, which was responsible for knocking the Americans out of the World Cup in 2006 and 2010.
Since then, Jamaica humiliated the U.S. in the 2015 Gold Cup semi-finals, after which they lost the Confederations Cup playoff spot against Mexico. From there, matters only seemed to slide further downhill until the USSF parted ways with Jurgen Klinsmann after CONCACAF rival Costa Rica routed the U.S. 4-0.
And yet, little progress has been made. Worse, the U.S. seems to have dramatically regressed the past few years. But let's be very clear, the United States is better than Panama and Honduras, which both qualified for the World Cup after Panama upset Costa Rica in the final minutes of their match and Honduras pulled off a huge upset against Mexico at home. Meanwhile, the United States went into their match with Trinidad and Tobago uninspired, underperforming with lackluster play and tactics that fans wouldn't and shouldn't accept from a USL team, let alone the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Outside of future stars Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood, and long-term veteran Clint Dempsey, there was no spark or sense of urgency from any of the players that took the pitch that day. Did they think that showing up would be enough? That Trinidad wouldn't even try because they had nothing to gain? Or did the team just assume that Costa Rica and Mexico would have won their games easily enough, despite the fact that both Panama and Honduras were playing with everything on the line? If it were France or Germany that had failed to qualify in such a fashion, almost every player in that locker room would most likely never take the pitch in a national shirt again.
And let's be honest, the United States wasn’t going to win the 2018 World Cup. But now, they’re afforded a new year to address their biggest concerns moving forward.
The USSF needs to find new leadership that can take this team into the future, instead of letting it stagnate like it has under Sunil Gulati. It's time to take a long, hard look at the youth development in the United States.
The U.S. has talent and prospects in place, and it’s time to use them. Give them vital playing time instead of constantly relying on older players past their prime. And finally, the U.S. needs to evolve its soccer culture.
And that should start now.
There's no reason or excuse that the United States can't rule over CONCACAF. According to Statista, MLS has a higher attendance rate than the NHL and NBA, and it’s the most popular sport amongst youth. So why has the USSF utterly failed to feed off of this? Why have they opted to lazily drag their feet? Why can’t Sunil Gulati find a coach capable of building on what Jurgen started, instead of falling back on a man whose reputation had doubt emulate from every serious soccer fan in the country?
That's why the U.S. needed to miss the World Cup. Had the U.S. qualified, would anything really have changed? The answer is no. There would have been more of the same, win a Gold Cup here, win a big friendly there, make it to the World Cup and that will suffice for the USSF. But that's no longer good enough for the American population, nor should it be.
You have a year now, USSF, without the worry of preparing for the World Cup and what to do once you're there. It's time to move on. We love Tim Howard and everything he's done for this team and country, but his time on the USMNT should be done.
It's time to give young goalkeepers Ethan Horvath and Jesse Gonzalez their long overdue chance. It's time to call up Erik Palmer-Brown, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Weston McKennie and Dom Dwyer, to name a few. And you already have your superstar of the future in Pulisic — it's time to give him a supporting cast that can help him thrive — players who will fight, scrap and claw for every yard and goal instead of the pitiful display we've seen this entire hex.
But that's not enough. The USSF has to learn to let the birds leave the nest. Stop trying to keep players in MLS instead of pushing them to Europe, where they can better develop their skills in ways that they can't in America. And if the USSF takes offense to that, maybe they should work harder on trying to develop MLS as a league so U.S. born players wouldn't have to leave American soil to get better.
Do you believe Pulisic wouldn't be as great of a player as he is now if he didn't go to Dortmund to play but instead elected to stay in the U.S.?
It's time for the USSF to swallow its pride and start bringing in people that know the sport and how to do a complete overhaul of the system, starting with the youth programs. They need to bring in a coach that knows the game and knows how to groom future prospects to get them ready for the next qualifiers.
The United States should take a cue from Germany and France, which experienced similar disappointments. It's time for significant change within U.S. soccer, and there's no excuse for the USSF to prolong it any longer.