US Soccer Must Pay The Price And Remake Itself – Forbes

There were no saviors, no miracles, and then the unthinkable happened. The U.S. national team was knocked out of the 2018 World Cup with a 2-1 defeat on Tuesday night in Trinidad and soccer in America took a kick in the head nobody saw coming. The Americans went into the night with a projected 97% chance of qualifying, a number that eventually dipped by exactly 97 points.

The U.S. got no help on this night from Central American rivals Costa Rica or Mexico, which should come as no surprise considering the current political climate, and old soccer grudges. But there is no sense in pointing fingers right now, or wondering how the clock somehow was turned back to 1986. It is better to look ahead, and ponder the ramifications for the sport here and abroad.

There are several to consider:

This surely marks the end of the Sunil Gulati era for U.S. Soccer. Fairly or not, Gulati’s legacy has been badly tarnished. He can’t hope to win reelection next February as president, now that the Americans have failed at their single most important task. The U.S. team faltered under two different coaches hand-picked by Gulati – Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena. The end result surely had more to do with the players on the field than those selecting rosters and formations.

While U.S. Soccer continues to have one of the deepest player pools in the world, there simply aren’t any difference makers available other than Christian Pulisic. Development and recruitment must undergo significant changes in America, drawing from a more diverse population. It will be even harder to measure the state of the program without a World Cup experience, or a trip to the last Olympics in Rio.

“The only way you ever evaluate the program and quality of your players is in a World Cup,” Bruce Arena said, after the loss.

Now, that can’t happen.

The U.S. absence at the 2018 tournament will deal a minor economic blow to the Russia World Cup, because American tourists travel so well. The Russians would have loved to get the U.S., China and Germany in the tournament. Instead, they have only the defending champs. More importantly, the U.S. meltdown will impact domestic sponsorships and television ratings. Just last month, Gulati told me there were incalculable financial rewards that come with qualification.

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