We did it, everyone! We’ve arrived!
You and I, all of us, together. We made it. For the first time, we’re going to miss the World Cup.
Oh, sure, we’ve neglected to send a team the World Cup lots of times. But this time, we had fans. Millions of us. Were fans from shining sea to similarly shining sea outraged when we missed out on Switzerland 1954? They were not. When we missed out on France 1938, was the Internet alight with rage? It was not. This is the first time we will truly miss the World Cup.
Our nation’s best have failed. We are outsiders.
Rejoice! We’re a real soccer nation now!
During the years we have graced the World Cup with our presence, England, Mexico, France, the Netherlands, Qatar, Uruguay, Portugal – all have missed one or more tournament. Everyone has gone through it. Everyone but Brazil. But they had to deal with 1950 and 7-1, so they’ve walked their own path through darkness.
Well, scoot over, buddies. Your Uncle Sam needs a comfy place to sit.
What? Upside? Silver lining? The hell are you talking about? We failed. We’re going to miss the World Cup. There’s no bright side. This is it. Empty. Void.
The abyss is staring back. Hell, the abyss is asking what a nice country like us is doing in a dive like this.
We have been weighed in the balance, and found wanting. We have walked on the path to nowhere. The b’ar got us. We are at one with the windshield. We are the Velvet Underground after Lou Reed, Sterling Morrison and Mo Tucker all left. Rorschach has looked down and whispered “no.”
This is going to last for years. A lot of powerful people and wealthy corporations are realizing this morning they have set several huge piles of money on fire. Which is, let’s face it, pretty damn funny.
But this is America, and the trickle-down system is alive and well. Somewhere this morning there are hundreds of people whose job it is to sell tickets to Major League Soccer, America’s favorite new whipping boys of failure. Somewhere this morning there are sponsors who have bought airtime with a big eagle-shaped hole in it. Somewhere this morning there are people whose livelihoods depended on the assumption that the United States would qualify.
Yeah, I too have heard tales of the USSF’s multi-million surplus. Brothers and sisters, that money is spent. What, you think it was sitting around in bags with dollar signs on them, or filling Sunil’s swimming pool so he could channel Scrooge McDuck? Those chickens weren’t just counted, they were sold, skinned and deep-fried. If THAT money was going to trickle down, it won’t now.
Did the powers that be - well, the powers that were - deserve a house call from Dr. Nemesis? Probably. But real people will feel the consequences. Salaries will go down, jobs will be lost. A lot of those people have done a lot of hard work and put up with a lot of bullshit for the sport we love.
Yeah, from now on, we probably won’t take the World Cup for granted. That’s not a silver lining, that’s putting up a stoplight on the site of a five-car pileup.
Last night marked the end of – I don’t know what we’ll call it. The Caligiuri Era? That Time When We Were Into Soccer? We have started a new chapter. Now we’ll find out what we can survive.
If we had pulled his stunt in 2001, MLS would not have survived. And it would have been replaced by nothing. The USISL would have been the de facto top division in pro soccer in this country, and the number of Americans who made their living playing soccer anywhere could have once again fit in a medium-sized pamphlet.
We’ll find out if that extra sixteen years was enough time. We had Adumania and Beckhamania and Chivas USA and Cascadia inventing soccer. But we also had MLS cheerfully taking applause for Dos a Cero and Landon’s Algeria goal. Seems like a hundred years ago now, doesn’t it? MLS is going to have to sell its own charms for the next few years.
You would think pro soccer would survive, but then again, you would think a Hall of Fame coach with a laundry list of domestic and international accomplishments would qualify out of the Hex for a third time.
This is a disaster. This is the biggest disaster in the history of the sport in America. The damage hasn’t yet begun to be calculated, and there’s no way to make it better.
Well….there’s one way to make it better.
All this goes away if we host the World Cup again.
We’ll still have our cherished memories of last night, of course. Take, for example, Christian Pulisic. That’s one of a very few World Cups he will have, gone, gone with the wind. Yeah, there’s 2022 and 2026 – we hope. But he’s going to be so damned good – he’s already so damned good. Even a three and out in 2018 would have prepared him for 2022 and 2026.
Maybe he wins a Champions League and a Ballon d’Or, or several – that would probably prepare him adequately for the World Cup. But Pulisic has “I’m going to do magical things, so everyone watch” written all over him. I want to see that magic representing American soccer, in American colors. At best, I have to wait. That’s four years of fans he won’t win over, four years of greatness we won’t have in our history.
Hell, my dumb ass was looking forward to seeing John Brooks in another World Cup, let alone Pulisic. And you didn’t have glimmery visions of Clint Dempsey coming off the bench for a game-winning, record-setting goal? (Okay, he probably would have broken the record in the tournament run-up.)
As I was saying, hosting the World Cup brings back the fans, brings back the hype, brings back the financial certainty. We’ll take that 48 team extravabortion and sell every damned ticket. We’ll have so many eyeballs on so many ads that P.T. Barnum himself will look down from heaven and say “That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.”
Oh, we won’t have those big money qualifiers, but we have to share that cash with CONCACAF anyway. And I have a sneaking suspicion Soccer United Marketing will come up with something to fill the void.
That does leave us fans with what might be called a dilemma. The most qualified man, by far, to bring back the World Cup? Sunil Gulati. Out of the other declared or potential candidates, how many would you trust to run a Pinewood Derby, let alone a World Cup?
Sure, Sunil could blow it. As we speak, somewhere in Morocco some wiseass is probably saying how the 2026 World Cup would outweigh qualification failure, in case the Abidjan match in November goes south on them. But Sunil is the high percentage choice. Just like Bruce Arena was. Are you willing to risk the one thing that will make everything all better, because otherwise Sunil Gulati won’t be properly punished?
There’s also a dilemma for the USSF – well, one of many. Without SUM, the biggest revenue generator American soccer has – the Mexican national team – stays home much more often. Those friendlies are going to be pretty crucial in keeping the lights on between now and when/if we host the World Cup again. Now that there are officially much bigger fish to fry, it’s time to settle with NASL.
If the USSF is willing to sacrifice the integrity of their divisional standards, then SUM is pretty much secure. If the death of SUM is NASL’s price, then there’s probably no alternative but to see the thing through. But since NASL forgot to ask for that explicitly in their filing, then the smart call is to offer them even more than what they explicitly asked for. They wanted D2, give them D1. Divide leagues into Professional, Amateur, and Outlaw. Or do without divisional standards until NASL decides to die. Just get this thing out of the way while it still costs nothing.
A lot of countries don’t have these kinds of options. But Wales and Ghana probably didn’t overextend themselves as much as the USSF has.
Yes, the honorable way back to respectability is to patiently build club loyalty one fan at a time, training and honing individual players, finding a wise coach to rebuild the national team – look, that crap hasn’t worked for Holland or Mexico, and it won’t work for us. But we can take a shortcut that will win over millions of fans overnight. Given the choice between hosting and qualifying? Host, every time. That is the USSF’s mission right now.
And if that $100 million surplus is earmarked to outbribe Morocco? Money well spent.