Thoughts on USMNT failing to qualify for 2018 World Cup

Have you ever heard of Trinidad and Tobago? Neither had we until World Cup Qualifiers came along. Trinidad and Tobago is a small, island nation based in the Caribbean. Discovered in 1498 by Christopher Columbus, the nation has been under Spanish, British, Dutch, French and American rule — yes, we once owned them — and now has a population of 1.3 million people. On Tuesday night, despite history, politics and downright talent, the Tobagonians metaphorically invaded and conquered the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT), beating them by a devastatingly painful, yet minuscule score of 2-1. Four years of build up, four years of waiting, four years of development and four years of excitement were thrown into a dumpster, lit on fire and quickly sunk deep into any ocean of your choice.

The Confederation Of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football (CONCACAF) is a group of nations that mostly consists of Caribbean islands you’ve never heard of, ranging from Guadeloupe to Suriname (yes, there’s a country named Suriname). After a series of qualification rounds, the best six teams are put into a group, appropriately nicknamed “The Hex”. From there, those teams battle it out in round-robin format, and the top three teams automatically qualify for the illustrious World Cup. The fourth-place team must face a team from Asia to determine who will qualify, sort of like a Wild Card game in the NFL or the MLB. With one game to go, the USMNT sat in third place, two points ahead of both Honduras, who we beat 6-1, and Panama. All they had to do to qualify is beat the aforementioned Trinidad and Tobago to make it to the biggest stage of world soccer for the eighth-straight time. Even if they lost, if either Honduras or Panama didn’t win, the Red White and Blue would be guaranteed a spot, whether in automatic qualification or by way of a face-off with an Asian team. With Mexico and Costa Rica, first and second respectively, being unable to complete a simple task (beating Honduras and Panama) and the tragic loss the U.S. faced at the hands of Trinidad and Tobago, the world came crashing down and all hope of a World Cup berth was lost.

Even though there is a long list of reasons why the USMNT is complete and utter garbage, one of the main reasons is the American soccer league known as Major League Soccer, or MLS. To sum up the MLS for you, it’s basically where old, washed out, European legends go play to retire, such as Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Thierry Henry and David Beckham. One of the main reasons the MLS is terrible is because of The Super Draft, which isn’t all that super. Players are drafted out of their selected college into the MLS mostly at the age of 21-24, which is extremely old for a prospect in soccer, considering you already have players such as Kylian Mbappe tearing up the UEFA Champions League at the age of 18. This means that they don’t have nearly as much time to develop all that well, and by the time they are selected for the national team, most players are washed out shells of their younger selves, who weren’t given a chance to play. The result of the Super Draft is that you end up with players like Chris Wondolowski and Graham Zusi, old, not-quite-as-good-as-they-used-to-be players representing us on the biggest stages. Another reason why the MLS is bad is because of the American-style playoff system, exactly like the NFL or NBA. This is bad because it means no relegation system, and no relegation system means no competition or any chances for young US players to rise and become great. Maybe if rich team owners decided to not be stingy with their money and realize they need to put more effort into their teams, maybe then the MLS will decide that they need to eliminate the playoff system and implement a promotion-relegation system like in Europe to further enhance competition, player development and popularity of the game in our country.

Another important factor that played into us missing out on the 2018 World Cup is the quality of play in the CONCACAF. Those of you who know more about soccer will know that playing on a bad pitch really impacts your style of play. Often times the US has to play in stadiums belonging to third-world countries, and the pitches aren’t always in good condition. The fields that the USMNT has to play on are the equivalent of the fields at your local school ground, the ones that kids trample all over every day. How are you going to expect professional soccer players to play on a school ground type field? Changes need to be made in CONCACAF about the type of field that should be allowable to play on. The amount of effort that CONCACAF puts into choosing referees is also not acceptable. Many of these referees come from nations with less-than-average leagues, where refs have far less experience refereeing high level games than the refs that officiate games in UEFA. Often times, CONCACAF refs are indecisive, taking up too much time to make their calls. There is no middle ground when it comes to calling fouls, either every bit of contact is a foul or none of it is. These less-than-average leagues don’t prepare referees for big games. Instead, many refs believe that it is acceptable for players to bite (yes, a U.S. player was bitten in a CONCACAF match this year without punishment), shove, throw, waste lots of time and worst of all, dive to get what they want. Although these factors are definitely not among the main reasons the USMNT didn’t qualify, they certainly didn’t help the cause.

Although we didn’t make the World Cup this year, there is still hope for the USMNT. The manager, Bruce Arena recently stepped down from US soccer which means we need a new coach. Some managers that I’d like the US to attempt to get are, Carlo Ancelotti, recently fired after his short spell at Bayern Munich. The former Italian boss is a big reach for the United States, but if we are willing to pay him what he wants, there is hope that he could become the next red white and blue manager. Another option is the former Dortmund boss, Thomas Tuchel. He recently resigned from Dortmund after an excellent season with the German side. He is another big reach for the United States, but once again, if we give him the money he wants, there is a chance that he could join us. Although these manager options are a big stretch for the US, this is what we need to advance in the soccer world. Also, the US men’s Under-17 squad is participating in the U-17 World Cup in India. They are currently 2-1 in the group stage and have already confirmed a spot in the next round. This is significant because the players currently playing are the same ones that we can only hope will be the next stars for the United States when the next World Cup comes around in 2022.

Overall, a lot of changes need to be made in the US soccer program. For us to be successful we must rebuild from ground up, and unfortunately a lot of people need to lose their jobs because of what has happened this year. What has happened is simply not acceptable. We can only hope that this won’t happen again, and when Qatar 2022 comes around, we’ll be prepared.