This has been a long time coming.
The United States’ elimination from the upcoming World Cup in Russia is an unmitigated disaster for soccer in this country. There are a ton of reasons why the next four to at least eight years is going to suck as an American soccer fan, most of which were laid out in this article by Kevin McCauley.
But while this is a nadir for the United States, it is absolutely deserved on every single level by every single person.
This is a system that was designed to fail, whose backers were blinded by obtuse loyalty regardless of faults and whose detractors were all too often focusing on the wrong things. No, promotion and relegation would not have prevented this any more than it helped Chile (or 150+ other countries) make the tournament. Yes, the one Panama goal shouldn’t have counted, but good teams don’t have to rely on the fortunes of others.
The United States instead relied too heavily on older players who couldn’t keep up with an ever-improving CONCACAF. Almost every other team in the region improved while the United States remained stagnant, happy with Gold Cup wins against B teams and not looking too hard at losses and draws to teams that they could have and should have beaten.
If Jurgen Klinsmann was too big-picture to elicit the results needed for the country to buy in, Bruce Arena was too small-picture, repeatedly using a rapidly aging squad all too comfortable with their positions on the team. Of course Tim Howard was going to start, his awful record in Colorado be damned. Of course Clint Dempsey gets the callup, his being a non-factor with Seattle for most of the year be damned. With a culture that rewards players for longevity and not for results, it’s absolutely deserved that they are spectators in July.
But there is plenty of blame to go around. Naturally USSF and the decisions they’ve made over the past several years that led up to this should be scrutinized and their feet held to the fire. Heads should roll from the top all the way down. The pipeline is broken, and it isn’t the fault of the MLS clubs who are working on developing top talent or the players who emerge from that pipeline. It’s the people who set that pipeline up and have overseen it getting less and less effective.
I also can’t help but think however that this is possibly karma (not the Buddhist definition of karma but the Western definition) that is coming back around. American fans have been arrogant and perhaps a bit spoiled for a long time. There aren’t many who remember 1986 (I do) let alone who have followed soccer that long (I didn’t). When you expect to show up and just walk to the World Cup, it’s only a matter of time until the laws of gravity catch up to you. American exceptionalism isn’t praying Costa Rica can get a result against Panama.
It’s also hard to sympathize with fans of the USMNT. The country’s largest supporters’ group continually has had to retract racist and xenophobic statements by affiliates, both before and after a sexual assault scandal that saw some modest changes and a ton of victim-blaming. Then again, the country’s chief executive says and does these things too. Unite and strengthen, indeed.
All of this put together is why the United States and its fans will be picking another country to root for in 2018. Everyone from the President of the United States Soccer Federation on down deserves this.