The United States Men’s National Team is in danger of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. If it happened, it would be the first time the USMNT missed the world’s greatest sporting event since Mexico in 1986. If they lose to Guatemala Tuesday night, they’ll need an awful lot of help from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines—Population: 103,000; FIFA Ranking: 141—just to advance to the next round of qualifying.
Look, they’re probably going to win, and they’re probably going to qualify for the World Cup. The match takes place in Columbus, where the USMNT has never lost a World Cup qualifier and has routinely put their rivals to the sword. As U.S. Soccer optimistically puts it, the USMNT has now played their two toughest away games. Then again, they’d never lost to Guatemala in World Cup qualifying—and hadn’t lost to Guatemala, period, since 1988—until they shit the bed on Friday, so who knows what’ll happen?
It is difficult to talk about the USMNT because very quickly you become bogged down in Very Serious proxy battles that are ultimately about The Future Of Soccer In America. Jurgen Klinsmann was brought aboard in 2011 to overhaul America’s developmental system, and has repeatedly criticized MLS while advocating for American players to test themselves overseas.
And insofar as soccer matters, these discussions are important. Over the last decade the U.S. has plateaued as an okay-to-good international team, and we are still waiting for the first truly world class American player. MLS is part of the solution, leagues abroad are part of the solution, academies are part of the solution, and the USMNT is part of the solution. Blending those elements together in a way that achieves success in the present while improving the future is complicated, and worth spilling ink over.
But dammit, the USMNT has got to make the World Cup. That is priority A, B, C, D, and E, and maybe after that we can talk about the youth and the future. All of those endless arguments rest upon the assumption that the U.S. will qualify for the World Cup indefinitely, and really, that should be a safe assumption. CONCACAF is awarded 3.5 bids to the World Cup, and the only consistently good teams are Mexico and the United States. It isn’t insulting the Costa Ricas, Panamas, and Honduras’s of the world to say that getting to the World Cup should be a cinch for the U.S.
Rarely do I feel patriotic. Actually, I mostly abhor patriotism because of how frequently it wraps itself around jingoism and brutality. But maybe because I played for traveling soccer teams when I was younger and (very briefly) harbored desires of playing for youth national teams, or maybe because I find it much easier to feel patriotic about what is essentially an immigrant sport whose participants are derided for being sissies, or maybe I just like being a dumb drunk idiot about soccer, but I actually give a shit about the USMNT and occasionally feel pride in them.
I want them to be great, to pulverize other countries, to root for Tennessee-raised future-Messi, to absolutely lose my shit in 2042 when some kid named Aiden scores the World Cup-winning goal, to live in the greatest soccer-playing nation on earth.
Not all of that is on the line in Columbus in 18 hours, and if the USMNT fails to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, they’ll be fine. Everything will be Fine.
But it will make me so sad, so please win.