Are there lessons to be learned from the United States’ surprising struggles to gain a place in the Women’s World Cup?
You bet there are.
The take-away is this: nobody has a birthright to participate in these tournaments.
George Vecsey writes this morning in the New York Times about the shrinking talent gap in women’s soccer around the globe. If you’re a little behind in all this, his piece is a good place to catch up.
Long story short, the United States slipped, big time, by losing to Mexico in the semifinals of regional qualifying going on down in Mexico. Now, Pia Sundhage and her U.S. women must now slog through a nerve-testing home-and-away series with Italy. Failure there means the United States, the two-time Women’s World Cup winners since the event started in 1991, won’t appear at the 16-team field next year in Germany.
Can you imagine that?
Whether you can or can’t, you had better remember it when qualifying for Bob Bradley and his U.S. men's team begins for Brazil 2014. (And it could begin as early as this coming September.)
Bruce Arena told us long, long ago that it will happen someday, that the United States will stumble and fail to qualify for a World Cup. I have always hoped that it would be later rather than sooner, the better to keep the soccer haters from having their day. But, in all honesty, it’s quickly getting to the point where failure to qualify will not dent soccer’s ongoing development here. So, I suppose I got my wish.
Odds are that the United States will, indeed, qualify for the 2014 World Cup. But these things aren’t decided by royal decree. Countries must earn it, and that includes the United States. And the passion over a potential World Cup berth in places like Honduras, El Salvador, Jamaica, etc., provides an intangible that the United States simply can’t match – although the U.S. can usually overcome it through sheer talent.
And there’s this: I’ve always thought that Canada’s ability to get its crap together is a huge X factor in it all. If Canada rises, as it well could, the private little room reserved for CONCACAF elites will suddenly get very crowded.