US Soccer Won’t Be In Russia. How Embarrassing…Right? [OPINION]
The most embarrassing loss in U.S. sporting history?
Saw that in a post last night after the U.S. men’s soccer team's artistic interpretation of a sponge – heartless and stuck to the bottom of the sea – in its 2-1 loss to CONCACAF's ocean floor team, Trinidad and Tobago.
The most embarrassing national loss in any sport, in a sport most of the United States doesn't care about?
Anyone remember John Thompson and USA Basketball in the 1988 Seoul Olympics? "What is 'The reason we have NBA stars playing on our Olympic national team?' for 800, Alex."
How about Lance Armstrong's dirty little secret single-handedly turning seven Tour de France titles into empty yellow jerseys? Hard to say it's a loss if there are no winners, but it sure ticks "national" and "embarrassment".
That said, back in ‘88, USA Basketball’s well-meaning college kids...tried.
Lance’s ambition got the better of him, but...ambition.
What the U.S. team put out in front of a smattering of fans down in the Caribbean was arrogant. Lazy. Smug.
It was a performance devoid of an awareness of the dumpster at which the team was flinging lit matches.
It was devoid of fear. Endorphin-enducing, blood-pumping, sense-heightening fear.
But that dumpster's been full for awhile, and when the match hit it blew up in US Soccer’s face. All of US Soccer, from president Sunil Gulati to MLS to a youth system decidedly lacking the poor kids looking for a shot that may never come because the scouts are all at the suburban soccer-fest with 200 dues-paying club teams.
A nation of 350 million people that has invested billions of dollars in the game can’t beat the country so mired at the bottom of the table they decided to field a B-team full of youngsters to get them experience.
Not qualifying for the World Cup in Russia next year is stunningly bad in so many ways.
Not only is Trinidad and Tobago not good, qualifying from a group that — outside of Mexico — includes tiny nations from Central America and the Caribbean should be a tropical breeze.
A whole four-year World Cup cycle is gone for players like wunderkind Christian Pulisic, who shouldn’t have to carry his team at age 19, although he’s capable.
There will be no swan song for 2014 World Cup heroes Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey, which, along with Pulisic, means no American star power on television, which means no reason for fans, casual and otherwise, to gather at bars or for mammoth public park crowds to watch jumbotron-sized red, white and blue feats of athleticism.
It should sting. But reading the quotes from Gulati and coach Bruce Arena, you get more than a whiff of stagnant water.
Gulati's trying to step behind that big green pile of US Soccer cash. Rights fees, Soccer United Marketing money, bank from Copa America Centenario. That, and good ol’ American ambivalence to the sport.
With MLS teams taking leadership in player development — as the top league in any country should — as more American players are seen and picked up by clubs both in MLS and abroad, as rights fees soar, it’s easy to let things slide when Gulati refers to a Dempsey shot that bounced off a post and says, “You don’t make wholesale changes based on the ball being two inches wide or two inches in.”
But how about losing a World Cup berth in a 2-1 loss to T&T?
“There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing,” said Arena after the game. “Nothing has to change.“
These are not the droids you’re looking for, soccer fans. Move along.
Oh, look! SUM just made an exhibition match against Mexico next spring! We hate Mexico, amiright? C’mon...DOS-A-CERO! DOS-A-CERO!
And come 2018 how many Russian business trips will Mexico have taken in a year compared to US Soccer?
Don’t be fooled.
It was simultaneously wonderful, yet achingly sad for soccer fans to watch ESPN analyst and former national team forward Taylor Twellman spill his guts about what a blow this is to the American game over multiple hours on SportsCenter.
Outside of soccer fan Max Bretos, most of the anchors he was speaking with were like office workers feigning sympathy for an intern that had to be let go.
Twellman knew it, too, asking one anchor, "Two days from now, are you guys gonna be talking about this?"
We all know the answer.
So, is it really even an embarrassment?
Embarrassment doesn’t happen in a vacuum, it happens when there’s no place left to hide. Turn on the floodlights.