The United States men’s national team will not play at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The Americans lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday, while both Honduras and Panama won their matches, leaving the Americans fifth in the Hex and out of the tournament.
That embarrassment has fans wondering what the USMNT program’s immediate future, and if there are some positives that could come out of the Americans failing to qualify for Russia 2018.
The answer is that there are very few. Bad outcomes would outweigh good ones. Here’s a guess at what might happen now that the USMNT has totally blown it.
US Soccer has less money
FIFA’s payout to U.S. Soccer for making the Round of 16 at the last World Cup was $9 million. But that’s not all the money the USMNT program loses from missing out. There’s lost friendlies, decreased ticket sales in the years following, and loss of leverage in negotiations with sponsors to consider too. Missing out on the World Cup will cost American soccer tens of millions of dollars.
While U.S. Soccer isn’t exactly broke, there are still financial obstacles to creating an academy system that rivals the likes of Germany and France in a country that’s much larger and more spread out. Losing tons of money makes this much harder.
Tab Ramos, come on down
Dreaming of David Wagner, Marcelo Bielsa or another ambitious hire as USMNT manager? That now seems unlikely. After years of slow and steady progression, U.S. Soccer tried for a massive shake-up with Jurgen Klinsmann, who alienated youth coaches around the country while getting the senior team into the mess it’s in today. His failures could lead to USSF president Sunil Gulati thinking about an internal hire and Under-20 national team coach Tab Ramos getting the gig.
Ramos’ teams have produced good results over the last two Under-20 World Cup cycles, making the knockout stages of back-to-back tournaments. Failure to make the 2018 World Cup will increase calls for a younger team to start preparing for the 2022 World Cup immediately, and it would make more sense to put Ramos in charge of that task than a coach who isn’t familiar with the player pool of young Americans.
As good of a coach as Ramos is, he’s not noted for being particularly tactically astute. He sticks to his preferred game plan and his teams eventually get found out because of it. He makes truly baffling squad decisions that leave fans wondering how good his teams might be if he just called up certain players. Without the right assistants around him, it’s easy to see him struggling.
Gulati doesn’t get ousted
U.S. Soccer holds its presidential election in February, and Boston lawyer Steve Gans intends to challenge Gulati. Calls for Gulati’s head are already getting very loud, but fans aren’t the ones on USSF’s board. Most of those people care more about the business than the actual soccer. And when it comes to the business of American soccer, Gulati’s doing a great job.
Gulati’s leadership guided U.S. Soccer to a massive profit in 2016, and the organization now has $100 million in the bank. Despite strike threats from the USWNT, he negotiated a new CBA in time for the start of the NWSL season and avoided a work stoppage. And thanks to his growing reputation internationally, he figured out a way to deliver the 2026 World Cup to the United States virtually unopposed.
Overseeing the success of the senior men’s national team program might be the most important thing about Gulati’s job to most fans, but it isn’t to anyone with any say. Gulati has performed too well in the business aspect of his job to get booted.
National training center plans accelerated
If you’re looking for a potential positive thing that could come out of the USMNT screwing up terribly, here it is: US Soccer is reportedly interested in building a national training center like France’s Clairefontaine with the $100 million it has lying around. With the USMNT missing the World Cup, US Soccer will know it needs to look like it’s extremely serious about addressing that problem and will be very happy to tell you about plans for a shiny new facility.
MLS keeps its lame squad rules for at least four more years
As American soccer players and development improve, MLS should get a bit more chill about squad rules. Fewer restrictions on foreign players in MLS would give USMNT players better competition to play against, and American players are now good enough that they can get into the starting XI of a team with fewer squad restrictions. If MLS had more good players, presumably the quality of soccer would improve and more people would want to watch it.
But with the USMNT missing the World Cup, MLS will likely pump the brakes on any plans to loosen foreign player limits. Everyone will be stuck with a default of eight international slots, and the quality of MLS will stagnate.
The soccer internet becomes terrible
If you’re reading this piece, I assume that you have spent some time online. And if you made it this far, there’s a good chance that you partake in conversations about the USMNT and/or the state of American soccer on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Maybe you’ve sifted through waves of bad takes and hate-shared articles by soccer haters who love to tell anyone who’s listening that soccer will never make it in America.
Imagine how much worse it will get now that USMNT has missed the World Cup. Imagine how many cranky old columnists who have never watched soccer will come out of the woodwork to tell you that soccer is bad. Imagine how many people who studied abroad in Europe will be itching to tell you why America isn’t a real soccer nation. Mr. One Semester In “Barthelona” has all the answers, you guys.
The USMNT has failed soccer fans who spend way too much time online. We must now endure four years of horrible post-qualification failure takes.