Devastation. As the final whistle blew, soccer fans around America looked at the scoreboard in disbelief. With a trip to the 2018 World Cup on the line, the United States Men’s National Soccer Team’s 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago eliminated their chance of participating in this year’s tournament, with soccer critics describing the defeat as the most humiliating loss in U.S. Soccer history.
After a poor performance in the 1950 World Cup Finals, the USMNT hit rock bottom and went on an infamous 40-year dry span, failing to qualify for nine World Cup tournaments in a row. However, in 1990 the U.S. seemed to turn things around. Even though the USMNT lost all three of their matches, their ability to qualify for the 1990 World Cup in Italy jumpstarted their international success. Since 1990, the United States men’s team successfully qualified for every World Cup Finals Tournament. That’s precisely thirty-two years of qualifying for seven straight World Cups.
Here’s what the results look like:
With their thirty-two year streak on the line, the men’s team came up one goal short on an October night in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago. Due to international soccer media rights, the decisive World Cup qualifier could only be watched on beIN Sports Network–a small and obscure network, and not a channel that everyone can access like FOX Sports or ESPN.
This past Sunday, the 2018 World Cup finished with France on top. Led by 19-year-old star forward Kylian Mbappe, the France Men’s National Team capped off an entertaining month of soccer with a 4-2 victory over Croatia. However the American absence from the World Cup is something U.S. sports fans will have to deal with for another four years, until the 2022 World Cup is played in Qatar.
Thankfully, the United States can still claim three World Cup trophies to their name. The United States Women’s National Team currently sits on the throne in the women’s soccer world. After winning the first ever Women’s World Cup, the U.S. Women have added two more titles under their belt, which no other country has accomplished. Standing as FIFA’s #1 ranked team, the U.S. can look forward to decades of future success on the women’s side of soccer.
On another positive note, the U.S. won the bid to co-host the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico. With the tournament held in North America, soccer fanatics have already started to ask which team will win the automatic bid. The United States will host 60 out of the 80 total matches – however, FIFA has the power to regulate whether one, two, three or none of the three host countries will automatically qualify. Under new tournament rules, the World Cup is expanding from 32 to 48 teams, with a total of 80 matches being played, compared to the current 64-game setup.
In the U.S., it’s clear that the excitement around soccer does not belong in the same conversation as basketball, football, or even baseball. The NBA, NFL, and MLB stand as major-league powerhouses in the sports universe, while the MLS barely cracks the top ten when statistically ranking the best soccer leagues in the world.
A recent poll by Gallup concluded that football remains the most popular sport among Americans, followed by basketball, baseball than soccer. The reason for this remains up for debate, but the cultural attitude towards soccer remains constant: the United States cannot compete with the Germanys and Brazils of the soccer world.
The USMNT’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup was nothing short of an international embarrassment for the United States. In order to be competitive in the global soccer community, the U.S. needs to continue to push for soccer within the larger sports community. This means continuing to improve the MLS and other major soccer institutions, like NCAA soccer.
After missing this summer’s entertaining World Cup, the United States has to wait four years before attempting to redeem U.S. hope on the international stage. With the women’s current and future success, the men’s team has the talent to compete at the highest level. Young prodigies like Christian Pulisic (who scored the U.S’ only goal vs. Trinidad and Tobago) can lead the Men’s National Team to victory; it’s up to the soccer and sports fans of the U.S. to take responsibility and back their national soccer team through the highs and lows.