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U.S. Soccer: A Deep Disappointment, Not a Disaster

October 10th, 2017 · 1 Comment · Football, France, Russia 2018, soccer, World Cup

OK, we can stop whining.

A couple of hours of cursing and gnashing of teeth is understandable, but after that … time to move on.

Weird things happened tonight and the U.S. national team is out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

A 2-1 defeat at Trinidad & Tobago; Honduras and Panama winning over nothing-to-play-for Mexico and Costa Rica. A goal that banged off the bar and then the head of the Mexico keeper. Some referee’s decisions that could have gone other ways (the “ghost goal” by Panama) and changed things. Convulsions in the Concacaf standings, and the Yanks are fifth in the hexagonal — and done.

It is embarrassing, sure, to sit out Russia 2018, when your population and GNP are several orders of magnitude greater than those of your regional opponents. But it takes only 11 to play. Weird things happen, remember?

Just about everyone goes through this.

England, “masters of the game”, failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Argentina was left out in 1970 but won the whole thing in 1978; France missed out on USA 1994 but was champion four years later.

The Netherlands and Cameroon made six of the past seven but went down in flames this time around.

You want real trouble? Check out the USMNT prior to the start of the U.S.’s seven-straight run, now ended:

When the Americans failed to move to the final round of the 1986 qualifying it meant the country was going to go at least 40 years without a World Cup appearance.

Not that much of anyone cared, including me; I might not remember this if I hadn’t covered the final match for Gannett News Service.

It was played May 31, 1985, at El Camino College in Torrance, California. Yes, that was not (and is not) a significant venue, but that was U.S. soccer, just 30 years ago. A nickel-and-dime operation. Playing a sport not so much disliked by U.S. sports fans as dismissed.

The U.S. needed a draw versus Costa Rica to reach the final round of qualifying for Mexico 1986, which would pit the Americans against Canada and Honduras. A potentially winnable situation, that is.

But most of the crowd was Ticos, and the anonymous Yanks leaked a goal in the 35th minute and that was that.

As the Costa Ricans celebrated, U.S. soccer partisans, a hardy but small group, conceded they could see no end in sight for U.S. habitation on the periphery of semi-serious soccer.

The U.S. coach that night, Alkis Panagoulias, referred to two major problems:

–Nobody much cared. It was a scandal, albeit a repeated one, that visiting fans made up most crowds at U.S. “home” matches. Said Panagoulias: “We come here and half the crowd is Costa Rican. The people there probably haven’t been able to sleep for five or six days. The president of the republic was here for the game. Where were the Americans?”

And nothing is as enervating as apathy, and U.S. Soccer was mired in it. None of the emotional rants tonight were heard, back then.

–The country had no professional league, and none was on the horizon, and the team Panagoulias ran out there was mostly college kids, not hardened professionals. Paul Caligiuri, John Kerr, Dan Canter, Kevin Crow, goalkeeper Arnie Mausser, the man Panagoulias blamed for not punching away a Costa Rican shot, instead fumbling it for Everisto Coronado to tap in.

I remember, still, the Costa Rica fans in the parking lot, an hour after the match, horns blaring, firecrackers popping. While U.S. soccer skulked off to be ignored … forever?

It was only four years later that Caligiuri made a long shot in Trinidad, securing qualification to Italy 1990, starting that run of appearances, the end of which we now rue. A streak that may start anew in 2022.

The U.S. federation has issues, no doubt. Youth systems that don’t produce stars. A domestic league, Major League Soccer, so long awaited and now 22 teams strong, which is clearly inferior to any number of European or South American leagues. What often looks like sclerotic leadership (hello, Sunil Gulati, president since 2006) both on the administrative and coaching side.

But we must also acknowledge the rise of other Concacaf soccer nations, particularly those that are not Mexico.

Costa Rica is no joke; ask the teams it walked over to get to the Brazil 2014 quarterfinals. Panama is tough, Honduras just came from behind twice to beat Mexico, and competent sides like El Salvador and Jamaica and Guatemala and Canada are running hard to catch up.

Out of the World Cup. It was not a divine right extended to the U.S., from 1990 forward.

Now the federation needs to reexamine what is going on, bid adieu to some of the creaky oldsters like Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey and make a careful hire for a national coach, and get ready for Qatar 2022.

Nothing to cry about.

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1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Doug // Oct 12, 2017 at 6:52 pm

    I disagree. For U.S. fans the debacle vs. Trinidad is something to cry about. I saw both the 1985 game against Costa Rica and the fiasco against T&T on Tuesday night. Certainly the 1985 team had all sorts of problems — though I still think they should have won. Also, despite their limitations, the 1985 team gave it their all. The most embarrassing part of the loss to T&T’s B team was the lack of urgency and commitment by the U.S. players. Our guys just looked like they were going through the motions. Even after Pulisic scored early in the second half, there wasn’t much intensity, especially compared to what Panama and Honduras showed in their matches. The loss to T&T wasn’t a fluke. Our team was outplayed by and outworked. The U.S. effort was pathetic and resulted in epic rants by the likes of Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman. Even Landon Donovan, in his understated way, basically said we sucked. You are right that lots of things need changing and the sooner the better.

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