Sep 8, 2012

Why failing to qualify for 2014 would be good (yes, good) for US soccer

After losing in Jamaica last night, the U.S. Men's National Team is now in very real danger of crashing out of World Cup qualifying with an embarrassing thud. The scenario, once unthinkable, is now entirely plausible if the U.S. fails to win its remaining home matches, against Jamaica next week and Guatemala in October.

Failing to qualify for Brazil would cause a media bloodbath. The humiliating scenes would in all likelihood lead Sportscenter broadcasts for a solid 24 hours or more. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and probably even USA Today would run frontage stories. News programs on tv and radio would scramble to line up "experts" to explain what went wrong. Pundits like Steven A. Smith and Jim Rome, who have probably never even mentioned soccer before except maybe in questioning people's manhood, will howl for Jurgen Klinsmann's head. Twitter will alight with hashtags like #USMNTepicfail and #Klinsmannissatan. The blogosphere and Big Soccer sewing circle will melt down.

It would, in short, create the kind of outpouring we never dreamed could occur in this country over a soccer match. Everybody will be talking about it. Friends and family will inquire to our well-being. Hell, some of you may even consider drastic measures to end your suffering (I know who you are and will notify the proper authorities in such instance).

It would be ugly, but it would be beautiful. Because for once, U.S. soccer would dominate the airwaves and watercoolers in a way that got people to maintain their attention. Over the past two decades, quadrennial World Cup games have been little more than diversions from the regular cycle of news and social events. Sure they've attracted notice in increasing numbers, but it's been fleeting, lasting only as long as the tournament itself. This would break that cycle.

Faced with this unprecedented backlash, U.S. soccer would be forced to fire Klinsmann. His successor would have to be a back-to-basics guy preaching the type of uncomplicated defensive style that actually gets results. Klinsmann's uber-sophisticated systems and concepts may have sounded compelling for a little while, but ultimately people will realize the U.S. game wasn't ready for them. America is more of a meat-and-potatoes place anyway. We see no shame in using a little brute force every once in awhile if it gets results (and sorry, road victories in friendly matches really don't count as actual results in the whole scheme of things).

The national team to emerge from this would need to be grounded in fundamentals. A small core would form the nucleus of the squad, allowing younger talent to develop on the periphery. Realizing its strengths, the U.S. would abandon attempts to play like Brazil (or Germany) and focus on establishing itself defensively while allowing space for its superior athletes to assert themselves. Gradually, a true American style would develop organically from this. Klinsmann's vision of creating a U.S. style from the top down was admirable in many ways, but it was also far fetched (and not only because creating things from the top down is decidedly un-American). Ultimately, we prefer to speak softly and carry a big stick. Let's have our style mimic that.

So stress over qualifying as much as you like. In the end, some perspective is needed. If the U.S. fails to qualify for Brazil it will not be the end of the world. Nor will it be the end of soccer in this country. In fact, it may very well prove to be the beginning.


  1. A VERY Interesting piece...I'm going to put a link to your blog on mine...

  2. Dear GOD are you an overwrought fanboy.

  3. You know what would be better for media attention on the US team - making it to Brazil and doing well. The whole premise of this post is ridiculous.

  4. When I was a kid I had a coach that said it's ok to dream and try to play like you heroes but eventually you have to be yourself. Play like the person you are.

  5. I think that you should always try then fail to just fail and not try at all.