Opinion | Kicked In The (Foot)balls: US Soccer Takes Major Loss

By: Steve Boltri – Staff Writer

Oct. 10, 2017 marks, hands down without a shadow of a doubt, the worst day in the history of United States soccer.

The United States Men’s National Team’s (USMNT) hopes of competing in the 2018 World Cup in Russia were crushed as it lost its final qualifying match of the Hex (the 10-game final round consisting of 6 teams) 2-1 to lowly little Trinidad and Tobago, a Caribbean island with a mere 1.4 million people. To put that in perspective, that entire country is roughly the size of Dallas, Texas–just the ninth largest city in the United States.

The USMNT finished fifth in its qualifying region (CONCACAF, which consists of North America, Central America, and the Caribbean) behind Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, who have all booked their tickets to Russia, plus, Honduras who advanced to a playoff against Australia. The only team from the Hex to finish below the United States was, you guessed it, Trinidad and Tobago.

As a lifelong fan and supporter of United States Soccer, I am distraught, disheveled, demoralized, dejected, disappointed, and frankly downright livid.

The last time the USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup was in 1985 leading up to the 1986 World Cup, 10 years before I was even born.  That was a time when there wasn’t even a professional soccer league in this country, so we had an excuse. There are no excuses this time.

The USMNT has one of the two most talented rosters in CONCACAF, second to only Mexico.  Yet, it somehow managed only 3 wins and 3 draws in the Hex against the 5 aforementioned nations. Although losing to Trinidad and Tobago in the final match was the icing on the cake, the problems started well beforehand, and our World Cup fate shouldn’t have even come down to that game.

“The arrogance of the players is a joke, taking CONCACAF for granted because it’s “easy”. I bet it won’t be “easy” for them to watch Panama play in the World Cup this summer…”

Former USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann led the team to two losses in its first two games of the Hex, a bad start but nothing we couldn’t come back from, or so they said. Klinsmann was promptly fired and Bruce Arena was rehired; he was fired in 2006 after falling short of expectations in the 2006 World Cup. Sunil Galati, president of the United States Soccer Federation, is to blame for bringing back a failure of a coach and expecting a different result. There’s no excuse for that.

With a large pool of talented players to choose from to play in the Hex, Arena time and time again made mind-blowing team selections consisting of old, dried up former USMNT stars as well as not-so-old players who have proven they aren’t good enough to be in the squad. On top of that, he consistently fielded players out of position and used ridiculously predictable, easy-to-win-against tactics. Again, there’s no excuse for those things.

No matter how bad the administration is, though, the players are more to blame than anyone or anything. We only needed to finish fourth in CONCACAF and we couldn’t do that? Seriously, we couldn’t do that. With an extremely talented group of payers in the least-skilled qualifying region in the world and we couldn’t even finish fourth out of six teams, meanwhile Arena is advocating to play more games against European powerhouses? Give me a break.

We pump billions of dollars each year into soccer and we can’t even draw Trinidad and Tobago in a do-or-die game? We can’t beat Costa Rica at home or away? These games are not that hard! Playing an away match just isn’t a good enough excuse for losing! The arrogance of the players is a joke, taking CONCACAF for granted because it’s “easy”. I bet it won’t be “easy” for them to watch Panama, yes tiny PANAMA, play in the World Cup this summer while they sit in their big fancy houses in a state of despair.

The sheer lack of effort and determination I saw not only against Trinidad and Tobago but in almost every game of the Hex was shocking. They’re being paid with both money and honor to step out onto the field wearing that USA badge and they treated World Cup qualifying, the most important games they might ever play in their careers (especially since they can’t make it to the actual World Cup) like they were just a big joke. Well now thanks to their lack of giving a damn, the only big joke is United States Soccer…frontrunners in the bid to host the 2026 World Cup and we can’t even qualify in 2018? Wow!

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Missing out on the World Cup is never a good thing, but I will try my best to find one sliver of positivity that might come from this. It’s no secret that US soccer has been in a state of disarray for years now, and the administration up until now had done just enough to hide the problems.

Failure to qualify might just start the complete overhaul of US soccer that has been knocking at the door for years. After a failed campaign at the European Championships in 2000, Germany started a massive reconstruction of its soccer federation, which has led to semi-final or better appearances in seven of its last eight major tournaments dating back to World Cup 2002, and that includes winning the 2014 World Cup. Maybe the US can pull a “Germany”.

But more realistically, this is a giant step backwards just when soccer seemed to be catching up to other sports in this country. Only time will tell how well we as a nation can recover from this debacle we called World Cup qualifying, or a more accurate name would have been World Cup not qualifying.

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