William Vaught, Staff Writer
Unfortunately, as most of America is aware, the US Men’s National Team (or USMNT) failed to qualify for next year’s 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. This marks the first time since 1986 that the USMNT will not take part in the world’s premier sporting event. When the United States hosted the World Cup in 1994, they had big things in mind for the legacy of the “beautiful game [of soccer]” in America.
Following the success of the 1994 World Cup on American soil, the United States Soccer Federation (USSF), launched a new professional league, Major League Soccer (MLS), with 10 teams scattered across the country playing in cavernous American football stadiums. With rough patches, the MLS lost teams and then added a new one in Florida, expanded into Canada, and took on new markets that have been instant successes. In the coming years, the MLS will field 26 teams and will still be looking to grow.
The MLS lured in big stars from abroad at the twilights of their storied careers to attract fans. Names like David Beckham, Thierry Henry, Kaka, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo have all worn the colors of MLS. As the popularity of the league grew, teams went from ginormous American football stadia to intimate soccer-specific stadia to create atmospheres that would rival European grounds.
With two World Cup Qualifying matches to go, the USMNT controlled its own fate. It was simple: beat Panama and then either beat or draw (a tie, for non-soccer fans) Trinidad and Tobago. With the benefit of having a high goal-differential, a third-place finish of six teams would be good enough to punch a ticket to Russia next summer. All the USMNT had to do was play their game.
On Oct. 6, the USMNT defeated Panama soundly by a score of four-to- zero, in the friendly confines of America’s southern soccer capital, Orlando, Fla. The stars were aligning nicely for the red, white and blue. All we needed was to either beat or tie with Trinidad and Tobago.
On Oct.10, sloppy errors and plays doomed the USMNT from the start which led to a two-to-one upset in favor of Trinidad and Tobago. A what-would- have-been equalizing goal to save our hopes of going to the World Cup went too high in the waning minutes of the match.
To go from having great World Cup runs in 1994, 2002, 2010, and 2014 to not qualifying for 2018 really is not favorable at all for a country in which soccer still has a niche fanbase.
What is next for men’s soccer in America? Will the USMNT rebound in time for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar? Will this affect the incredible growth of the MLS to new cities like Atlanta, Minneapolis-St. Paul, or Orlando? Will this slump affect the USSF’s joint bid for the 2026 World Cup with Canada and Mexico?
Next year will be a summer without soccer for most Americans. Supporters in Orlando will still pack Orlando City Stadium in purple and cheer on the Lions, Sounders fans clad in rave green will still chant proudly and DC United will pack brand new Audi Field, but Americans will not have the chance to be United in cheering for the one team we all wanted to, the USMNT.