“The United States has been eliminated from World Cup 2018. The most surreal and embarrassing night in U.S. soccer history.”
That was a tweet from soccer journalist Grant Wahl, which summed up the emotions of United States fans and its soccer team on Tuesday night.
The United States men’s national soccer team finished a poor World Cup qualifying campaign by losing in the 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifier to Trinidad and Tobago.
After the game, USMNT fans around the country voiced their hurt and humiliation on social media. This was the right way to respond, and these fans deserve and should push for better.
The U.S. has more than 326 million citizens, according to the official government census website, and Trinidad and Tobago has approximately 1.2 million. The gap of resources for each country’s national team is massive. There is absolutely no excuse for the U.S. to have lost this match. To make matters worse, Trinidad and Tobago had nothing to play for. The team's hopes for qualifying for the World Cup were long gone at that point. The U.S. had everything on the line and lost.
There has to be a solution for this. The USMNT should not have even been in the situation it found itself in Tuesday night, but it was due to constant underachievement in its previous qualifying games. The solution may be to tear down the whole system of the team, or it may be to make small adjustments. A new coach tired of the status quo with the U.S. soccer system needs to be found, and a new president needs to be elected next year.
While Major League Soccer certainly needs to improve, it is not the overarching issue. The bottom line is that this never should have happened. No disrespect to the other teams in CONCACAF, but the U.S. should never miss the World Cup. It has more resources and, in recent years, more talent than most other countries in the Hex. This year, the U.S. had one of its more talented teams in a while, including 19 -year-old Christian Pulisic, who may be one of the best players in the world in approximately five years. He is already arguably the best player on a veteran team. The fact that the USMNT completely flopped in the campaign is sickening. There is simply no excuse.
Fans around the country are hurt. The team is hurt. And that is the way it should be. The minds that drive U.S. soccer need to decide how to best move forward and be sure this never happens again.
Whatever the future holds for the USMNT, the pain and shame of missing World Cup 2018 will persist for years to come, as it should. More should be demanded of this team and this organization. For now, all the U.S. will be thinking about is this failure.
U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez summed up the team’s emotions after the game in what he called “… the worst day of my career.”
"It’s terrible," Gonzalez told Sports Illustrated. "I just want to say sorry to all the fans that were pulling for us, that wanted to go to Russia, that believed in us. We let down an entire nation today.”
After such a heartbreaking loss, the question becomes how to prevent a similar disaster from happening again. There have to be solutions out there to improve the team and its system, and those solutions need to be put in place soon.
Until then, players and fans will be haunted by the nightmare that unfolded on Oct. 10.