What does World Cup failure mean for soccer in the USA?

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The U.S. national team failing to reach the 2018 World Cup means so much more than not seeing the Stars and Stripes in Russia next summer.

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Let’s not beat about the bush here. Not qualifying for the World Cup for the first time in 32 years is a massive embarrassment for the USMNT, especially when it came down to getting one point against a weakened Trinidad and Tobago side to seal qualification.

They should have never been in this position in the first place.

With this group of players and the opponents they faced in World Cup qualifying in the CONCACAF region, there is no excuse for not finishing at least in the top three teams in the Hex.

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Aside from the immediate issues to sort out regarding the future of several veteran players (Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, Geoff Cameron and others) and that of the coach Bruce Arena and U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) president Sunil Gulati, there is a huge secondary impact from not having the U.S. at the World Cup.

Next summer youngsters and casual soccer or sports fans in the U.S. will simply pay less attention to the games in Russia. That’s bad news for every single part of the soccer industry in the USA.

But U.S. fans will keep supporting their team. European clubs will not stop coming to the U.S. for preseason tours. Overseas stars will not be put off joining Major League Soccer . Fans will still watch the game at every level. But now a key catalyst to increase interest levels, which had arrived every four years for nearly three decades, has been lost and patience with the people running U.S. Soccer has run out.

Believing the U.S. not making a World Cup will have anything other than a negative impact on the short-term future of the game in the USA is pure naivety.

It is hard to quantify just how much money will be lost to the U.S. economy, and to U.S. Soccer, through their failure to not qualify but we can assume there will be many millions of dollars not spent on promoting the USMNT and the tournament as a whole. This is all down to the USA’s defeat at Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday and their dreadful qualifying campaign over the past 12 months.

For the team itself, a whole generation of U.S. youngsters will now not have the experience of playing at a World Cup under their belt by the time the 2022 tournament in Qatar rolls around. Christian Pulisic will not play at a World Cup until he is edging towards 24.

Think about that.

Yes, he is still incredibly young but there’s no doubting that not being at the World Cup next summer could stunt his progression, and that of several talented U.S. youngsters such as DeAndre Yedlin, Paul Arriola and Bobby Wood who may only have one more World Cup left in the tank before they have to call time on their playing career.

We will hear talk of a “lost generation” of U.S. players for many months and years to come and next summer it will be a strange and sobering sight to see the U.S. not at a World Cup for the first time since 1986.

There will be no street parties or stadium screenings of games across U.S. cities like there was in the summer of 2014 (remember how awesome they were?) not to mention a lack of the huge band of traveling American fans who would’ve traveled to Russia to experience the greatest tournament on the planet.

Hopefully positive change will come from this hugely negative experience. It could well get worse before it gets better as change is needed at the very top of the USSF but the system needs to be broken down and rebuilt. More emphasis is needed on youth development. More players need to be pushed at as young an age as possible if the USA will ever become the “world power” eternal optimists believe it can be.

The pay-to-play culture has to change if the U.S. is every going to unearth talents like Pulisic on a more regular basis. And failing to qualify for multiple Olympic tournaments and youth World Cups hasn’t helped either. There is no clear plan as to how players are developed in the USA and that is one of the problems impacting the USMNT.

The net must be cast wider than it ever has been in terms of talent identification. MLS and U.S. Soccer must work closer together to rebuild and move forward with a much clearer identity of what is achievable and possible.

For too long the U.S. has taken the CONCACAF region for granted and now they have paid the ultimate price. Their failure to reach the World Cup is not only a damaging blow to U.S. Soccer but also its many commercial partners and FIFA’s tournament as a whole.

The number of casual sports fans who would’ve watched the World Cup next summer cheering on the U.S. and then be intrigued enough to follow their local team in Major League Soccer, or even pick up a foreign team to support from afar, could dwindle.

All is not lost but you cannot sugarcoat the impact this monumental failure will have for soccer at all levels in the USA over the next few years.