With the United States Men’s National Team starting off the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with a loss to Honduras and away games against Mexico and Jamaica looming on the horizon, some USMNT fans are already worrying about the unthinkable prospect of the U.S. not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
While the U.S. is only one game into the hexagonal and they are currently only one point away from a qualification spot, the U.S. also faces perhaps the strongest group of hexagonal opponent’s in CONCACAF history.
If the U.S. doesn’t qualify for the 2014 World Cup, here are eight implications for U.S. Soccer.
Youth training will continue to improve
With the U.S.’ stellar record of six straight World Cup appearances, some might assume the worst should the USMNT not qualify for the World Cup.
However, with the U.S. already over the “tipping point” regarding soccer, many things won’t change—one of them being the improvements in youth training.
The numbers for American youth participating in soccer have remained steady over the last decade and soccer continues to steadily, if slowly, dig its way into the national psyche.
This past fall, U.S. Soccer instituted a full-year youth academy for elite players and some of these programs run by Major League Soccer franchises are already fully-funded, flipping the traditional pay-to-play model of soccer in America.
American soccer players also continue to enjoy the first generation of coaches who played the game themselves and the trend of homegrown player turned coaches is even hitting MLS with the likes of Jason Kreis, Caleb Porter, Ben Olsen and Jay Heaps.
MLS will continue to grow
Spring-boarding off the U.S.’ hosting of the 1994 World Cup, Major League Soccer was launched in 1996 with 10 teams competing in that first season.
In those early years, the success of the league was not always certain and two teams were contracted following the 2001 season.
Since then, however, the league’s resurgence has been remarkable. Now at 19 teams and continuing to look towards more expansion, the league is in good shape. The overwhelming number of clubs enjoy soccer specific stadiums and league attendance and interest is at an all-time high.
Regardless of whether or not the U.S. qualifies for the 2014 World Cup, MLS is here to stay.
Americans will continue to go overseas
Again, regardless of whether or not the U.S. qualifies for the World Cup in 2014, the flow of American exports to European leagues is not going to stop.
Many European teams have begun recruiting from America’s youth ranks and the recent transfers of Brek Shea and Geoff Cameron to the English Premier League as well as the success of Americans Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Stuart Holden has proved that Americans can contribute in the best leagues in Europe.
The pure number of Americans currently playing abroad is pretty impressive.
There will be a recommitment to improving American soccer
In an odd way, thinking long-term, the blow suffered by not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup could have a positive effect on U.S. soccer.
American soccer currently sits in a purgatory of philosophies. On the one hand, the U.S.’ traditional, pragmatic approach has been moderately successful in the past relying on advantages in athleticism, fitness and competitiveness to beat teams that it should not.
On the other hand, many Americans have been screaming from the rooftops that the U.S. needs to develop a more sophisticated tiki-taka style to develop truly world-class players.
With dozens of large immigrant populations influencing American soccer, it’s difficult to imagine one cohesive style emerging, but a combination of the dominant athletes who are also technically gifted and tactically aware is an exciting prospect.
The psychological blow
Obviously, the downside of the U.S. not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup will be the psychological blow to American fans and players alike.
Qualifying for six straight World Cups has put the U.S. in elite international company even if the U.S.’ World Cup performances in the tournament have been uneven. Victories over Spain, Brazil, Italy and a string of wins over Mexico in the past 15 years have constantly given Americans the impression they are on the cusp of soccer greatness.
The blow to that vision by not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, potentially revealing that same vision as a delusion, would be more than many fans could take.
A victory for the detractors
Over the past two decades and even today, American soccer has had to fight the impression, both at home and abroad, that it is inferior.
Many Americans themselves demonstrate their internal inferiority complex as they show an almost god-like deference to foreign leagues and foreign coaches. Coaches with an accent are often considered superior in American youth soccer programs for no other reason than the fact they are not American-born.
The ultimate manifestation of this inferiority complex may have been the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann to run the USMNT. Say what you will, but the two most successful managers in USMNT history were probably Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena.
Abroad, many managers and owners will continue to hold that all Americans players, regardless of their track record, are unworthy for inclusion in their squads. Some of this could be seen recently as Clint Dempsey, as the fourth-leading scorer in the EPL in 2011-2012, struggled to find a club willing to make a suitable transfer bid.
Michael Bradley, who has proven good enough to find regular starts for the last 18 months in Serie A, was deemed worthy of only 28 minutes of playing time at Aston Villa under French manager Gerard Houllier in the spring of 2011.
Even worse, in America, the entire sport of soccer is still fighting to be accepted on the national stage. American sports fans are quick to bash soccer of any kind, the sport is ignored in terms of mainstream media coverage and when the occasional golazo does make the top plays of the day, pundits with no knowledge of the game butcher the player’s names and use the wrong terminology to describe what they are watching.
The U.S. not qualifying for the 2014 World Cup would only deepen the impression that soccer, and particularly American soccer, is not worthy.
American soccer fans will be really bored
The American fan base, in particular for the national team, continues to experience strong growth. Connected by the internet, thousands of Americans of disparate backgrounds have begun to coalesce around their common love for the USMNT.
That spirit is perhaps best embodied by the supporter’s group the American Outlaws, which boasts nearly 80 local chapters and thousands of members.
While the World Cup in 2014 will be fun to watch regardless of whether or not the U.S. is playing, for American fans, the tournament will lack the passion injected by the presence of the Red, White and Blue.
Jurgen Klinsmann will be shown the door
If the USMNT fails to advance to the World Cup for the first time in 20 years, there is little chance that Jurgen Klinsmann’s contract, which expires in 2014, would be renewed.
It would be a stunning failure for any coach considering that the team has arguably never had better depth than it does now with many Americans playing in top leagues throughout the world.
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