Why “soccer NIT” tournament would be a bad idea

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U.S. Soccer and Soccer United Marketing (SUM) are reportedly investigating if they can stage a tournament in the USA next summer featuring prominent teams who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

So, in College Basketball terms, an “NIT” tournament ahead of the World Cup in Russia. This is not a joke.

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On the face of it, this seems like a splendid idea for many. Fans of the U.S. national team shared similar proposals on Twitter and Facebook as the list of big name nations failing to qualify for the World Cup increased over the past few days. I’m all for growing the sport in the USA and having as many high-profile games as often as possible in the U.S. is a good thing.

But not like this. No. No. No.

Having the U.S. at the centerpiece of an international laughing stock in the world of soccer just isn’t a good look. This should be the end of it. U.S. Soccer should be focusing on bigger problems, like making sure youth development continues to improve and having a clear plan for the future of the USMNT in place. Not this.

Having three or four money-spinning friendlies formulated in a loose tournament format to simply help ease the pain of World Cup failure is pointless.

It seems as though U.S. fans who have been robbed of seeing their team at the elite international tournament next summer are stomping their feet and want an alternative. Guys. There isn’t one. Let’s all move on.

In theory, stadiums across the USA will be full for multiple high-profile friendlies between Italy, Chile, Ghana and the USA . So, that’s good. Right? There have also been suggestions about capping the tournament so that all the players who feature are under the age 25 and that way you get to see the next generation of each nation as they rebuild their rosters following World Cup failure. So, why not?

Well, how about, why?

Other than making somebody, somewhere huge profits for full stadiums during these friendlies, I’m struggling with a viable answer. FIFA wouldn’t sanction any such tournament and it certainly wouldn’t be allowed to run into the start of the World Cup which runs from June 14 to July 15.

There is no official FIFA window for games scheduled in late May or early June. Only teams heading to the World Cup will look to play friendlies in late May and early June and the only reason the teams who didn’t qualify will be in demand is because the 32 teams who made the World Cup will not want to play against anybody they could be facing in Russia.

That means the U.S. will likely play two friendlies in June, just as they have in previous “sendoff series'” games before a World Cup. Of course, they will be going nowhere this summer but that should be it. Two friendlies, then Christian Pulisic should be allowed to spend the summer in California hanging out.

Let’s just all move on from the USA’s 2018 World Cup qualifying debacle and let’s not have the U.S. become the home, and the figurehead, to a tournament where it would be fitting to plaster a sad face emoji on the wooden spoon trophy given to the winning team.

But proponents would argue that in this “NIT” format, the U.S. could, in theory, host two games against two of Chile, Italy and Ghana with each team playing one another once. So, six games in total.

But why not go the whole hog and invite seven other nations — the Netherlands, Ivory Coast, Republic of Ireland and Wales aren’t up to much next summer now — to the USA and have an eight-team tournament with two groups of four and the top two teams from each group reach the semifinals before a final is played where the winner receives a golden wooden spoon.

Listen to how ridiculous that sounds. That is basically what is being proposed.

I have no doubt that given the growing level of fandom (see: the Copa America Centenario in 2016 and huge preseason friendlies each summer) in the USA and the fact that citizens of many other nations now call the U.S. home and barely get a chance to see their own nations play in person, that stadiums would be pretty full for most of these games.

In truth, that’s the main reason why organizers are contemplating hosting these friendly games in the U.S. Think about it.

I’m sure players like Alexis Sanchez, Marco Verratti, Virgil Van Dijk and Pulisic would love to be in the USA next summer after a monster domestic season… but on vacation and trying to get as far away as possible from reminders that they should have been at the World Cup instead.

The fact that the U.S. is even contemplating organizing and hosting this event is part of the bigger problem. For so many years U.S. Soccer has been a supreme business model with huge profits made. But that’s come at a cost, which is, obviously, not being in Russia next summer.

It’s time for U.S. Soccer to move on and focus on one thing: the U.S. national team and getting the best possible two friendlies in June. Nothing else. And then, after those friendlies are over, they should sit back and watch the 2018 World Cup so they can realize just how badly they mishandled the last four-year cycle after Brazil 2014.