by Nathan Shelby
Last night, the USMNT experienced a moment that, for better or for worse, will come to define a soccer generation.
A 2-1 loss to eliminated Trinidad & Tobago ended the Yanks’ hopes for making the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Let that sink in,
We aren’t going to the World Cup.
We aren’t invincible as a footballing nation. We aren’t the chosen ones. We are no greater than any other country.
Lose the kind of games the USMNT has this qualification cycle and you just don’t qualify for the World Cup.
In a time filled with so much division and pain in this country, the event that could have brought everyone together, for even a month, will pass this nation by.
This is the rock bottom for US Soccer.
What comes next for a nation who hasn’t missed a world cup since 1986?
What comes next for fans, like myself, who have never experienced a World Cup without the pride of supporting my country?
What happens to all the growth we have seen in the game over the last few decades?
The truth: nothing and everything.
This loss hurts, but it cannot take away the strides the sport has made in so many ways through the years. I won’t burn my Sounders jersey because of this game. Teams like Atlanta and Orlando won’t lose their great support or fantastic stadiums. The USL won’t stop growing in teams and support. We won’t stop seeing the participation at the youth level rise exponentially year after year.
But what all these successes, and all the consecutive World Cups has done is mask what lies beneath the good in the US Soccer world: a broken system that couldn’t keep up with the world forever.
When a bone is broken, and is not set correctly, it still heals, but it heals in a way that may hinder the further growth or health of the bone. The soccer landscape today may be, in many respects, an unimaginable dream land compared to where we were in 1986, but like a poorly healed bone, it can’t truly fulfill its purpose. All our growth in the game through the years have long placated the reality that there are aspects of this system that are broken and ugly.
The fact that kids have to play thousands of dollars to take part in teams that have aren’t coached by their Uncle who watched a soccer game once.
The lack of academy support by the Federation.
The fact that our system for youth development is all about getting kids to college, not to professional teams.
The fact that, outside the MLS, the Federation has shown EMBARASSINGLY little financial support to the other leagues in this country.
So, what happens now? How do you fix a bone that healed incorrectly? There is only one way to do both. You must break the way things are now, and set things up correctly. This is not the time for complacency or holding pat with the way things have always been. As a nation, we need to hold nothing as holy at this point. If we TRULY wish to become anything more than mediocre, every single institution in this country must be called into question.
This isn’t just one game that was lost in a distant and poorly kept venue against a team that had nothing to lose
Last night was the culmination of decades of apathy, misplaced focus, stupidity, arrogance, and outright corruption.
It is time that the true leaders of the sport in this country rise and take charge of this sport.
It is time that we debunk the ethnocentristic lie that we MUST do things differently in this country because we are AMERICA and WE MUST BE DIFFERENT because we are unique!
It is time for the fans, the media, and the players to demand more than just qualification and an early exit from a tournament we CAN compete in.
Not tomorrow, not next week, not for the next World Cup Cycle
We need a new group of leaders who are willing to address the major problems in this sport and who are willing to cut ties with tradition in order to bring the US, finally, into the light of global football.
I won’t pretend to know what the answers to these problems that face or sport are. But there are nations who have figured out the answers.
Learn from them
But whatever we do, we CANNOT accept last night, and we cannot accept the status quo.
What comes next? Change.