Last week, I wrote about all of the positives if the U.S. Men’s National Team misses the World Cup. To be fair, I think that guy had some pretty good points. If you haven't read that piece, please do. Not just because I want you to, but because this article is very much the direct counter.
With that being said, that guy last week was crazy. He was sober and clearly didn’t have his wits about him. Now that I’ve been in the old country sauced up on plenty of pints and Irish Whiskey, I’m going to straighten this out.
Are there things to be gained by not making the World Cup? Maybe. But are the losses more than the gains? You would have to believe so. Maybe it’s all my years as a Cleveland sports fan, but rooting for teams to lose for future growth is insane and this case is no different.
The state of soccer in this country may never be stronger, but that doesn't mean it can afford a setback like missing the World Cup. So let’s prove sober me wrong:
The Executive Level is Going to Change Anyway
To think that we need something drastic like missing the World Cup for us to reevaluate Sunil Gulati and co. is absurd. Regardless of what happens this week in qualifiers, the microscope on the United States Soccer Federation presidency has never been more prevalent. Gulati has essentially run unopposed as he’s brought phenomenal growth to all levels of the sport. But now he faces his toughest task, as Steve Gans represents a viable, and refreshing, option as we move forward.
But lets say that Gulati earns another term, is that so wrong? I could list any number of statistics that says Gulati has been the best USSF president ever, but I’d rather focus on the immediate and that’s the 2026 World Cup. I mentioned in my last article about Gulati working the FIFA Conference room and trust me it’s going to come in handy when the USSF looks to get back what should have been ours in 2018 or 2022. If Gulati, with the request to speed up this decision, succeeds then it shows that he is still the right man for the job.
A Coach Can Only Do So Much and Consistency Means Something
If Bruce Arena can lead this team to a World Cup, get us out of the group, and perhaps get out of the knockout stage then how can one argue that he shouldn't continue? Well, I plan on it, but for the purposes of this debate you would have to say that Bruce would have earned his keep.
The U.S. had its fill of experimentation and what we need now is a consistency we’ve been searching for over the past two years. Bruce is nothing but consistent in player selection and results that keep the U.S. moving in the direction it needs.
Bruce may not be the best man for the job, but he certainly might be the best man for the job right now. Especially if he turns around what was a tumultuous ride of experimenting by Jurgen Klinsmann.
Becoming a World Power Should Be All the Motivation Needed
The urgency argument is tough to argue because everyone can see the complacency in the squad right now. So instead, let me argue that hopefully the U.S. squeaking through to Russia is all we need to light that fire again.
Be it in third or through a playoff, barely getting into the World Cup and most likely facing a tough draw will — dear god please — wake up this group of players who seem to be half asleep at the wheel.
If the USMNT wishes to continue its goal of being a top 10 national team, it has to show that drive day-in and day-out because we don't have the luxury of slacking off. If we slack off, opponents don't respect us and in turn our fans have less respect. Neither is a situation you want as a country on the rise.
World Cup Qualfying is Not the Time for Youth
One of the hardest jobs a national team manager has is how to successfully integrate new blood into the fold. When do you do it? How do you do it? How often do you do it without sacrificing results? These are all very complicated questions as you only get so much time to manage your team.
World Cup qualifying is rarely the time to tinker. You have one goal and you have to go with the guys that you and the team trusts. Nothing is worse then a new key player being inserted to a group that isn't comfortable, only to drop points. This is why you see the same names every match. It’s what is needed in qualifying.
And regardless if it’s the right time now, the youth are always going to take priority after the World Cup and some camps in 2018 aren't going to do all that much four years before Qatar. To think that those extra few camps without the worn-out veterans is going to do much is silly. Whoever the coach is, they are going to know that the youth contingent of everyone under 23 needs to be the priority and will have two years to focus on that before the next cycle.
Culture is Strong, But In No Way Infallible
Anyone who has been watching soccer for the past 20 years can tell you about the growth of the game and how it has never been stronger. A lot of that has to do with the influx of neophyte fans over these years that have picked up the game due to its success. Soccer is still flooded with naysayers that love to spout from the rooftops that “our best athletes don't play soccer,” or some other asinine comment. These “true-blooded” Americans want nothing to do with soccer and would love nothing more than the game to take a hit.
The viral effect of that could mean losing emerging fans that will have to hear about the U.S. not making the World Cup and how soccer is a second-rate sport for four long years. That would mean that not only do we die hard fans lose out on seeing the Yanks compete on the best stage, but the future USMNT and MLS attendances may be impacted as well.
The business side of the game is still very much on shaky ground and a missed World Cup would be disastrous on that front. I believe the recent MLS and USSF record attendances have been a direct result of continued success from both national teams. The last thing it needs is this setback when we couldn't be on a bigger high.
Look, there are positives to the U.S. not making the World Cup. But I would never root for the U.S. to cut off its nose to spite its face. The USMNT needs to be at the World Cup. It needs to continue to prove to the world that it is a nation to pay attention to and not being in Russia would make us a joke to the countries that sit at the top of the game. There’s even potential that all of the positives gained by missing the World Cup wouldn't even be there, especially if we flame out in horrible group play.
At the end of the day, to think the U.S. missing out on Russia is great is madness and an argument that needs to be squashed. In the meantime, I look forward to cheering the Yanks on this week as we look to lock in that World Cup spot and making this debate pointless.