Has it really been a year? Sadly, it has. You may have tried to wipe it from your memory, but the darkest day in U.S. Soccer in several decades (if not ever) is hard to forget.
On October 10, 2017, the U.S. men’s national team lost 2-1 in Couva to Trinidad and Tobago as they failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
With the USMNT missing out on qualification for the first time since 1986, huge changes have taken place throughout the U.S. Soccer Federation (USSF) as a result of that shocking performance at T&T.
From Bruce Arena resigning, to a whole host of experienced USMNT stars not playing for the national team again or retiring altogether, U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati stepping down and replaced by Carlos Cordeiro, plus Earnie Stewart appointed as the new team GM, there has been a huge amount of change around the USMNT.
One year on, they issued the following statement on Wednesday (titled: “the future is US”) which didn’t directly address that it was one year since the debacle, but they said pretty much implied that with everything that was said.
“Today we look forward. With the march towards 2022 underway and the 2026 FIFA World Cup in North America as our guidepost, the U.S. Men’s National Team has embarked on a new journey. The hallmarks of the culture remain, with perseverance, grit and dogged determination fueled by the pride to represent the United States and each and every one of you. We take nothing for granted. The path ahead will be paved with successes and informed by setbacks. We will build strength through commitment and character, accepting challenges and rising every time we fall. We will be aggressive and play without fear, for history demonstrates that fortune favors the bold.
“Like any grand project, ours is a work in progress. We cannot do it alone. Pioneering a new path forward takes the will of a generation full of optimism and hope, bound by the belief that there is nothing we cannot achieve if we are united in the cause. This is the American spirit, from which is born the American dream. It is time to take our destiny in our own hands and turn that dream into a reality. And do it together. The future is US.”
A lot of this is waffly PR talk and most of it will either grate or resonate strongly with USMNT fans.
“Like any grand project, ours is a work in progress” is like saying, ‘hey, give us another year or so, because things won’t be great for a while’ or something along those lines.
And the acceptance that “the 2026 World Cup in North America as our guidepost” shows that the route ahead has been planned out and the 2022 World Cup is somewhat of an afterthought already. Of course, the U.S. will want to qualify, but having such a young squad getting the experience it has over the past 12 months is clearly focused on them succeeding on home soil in eight years time. A lot can change in eight years, but at least the USMNT know they will be in that World Cup (it has yet to be announced officially, but the expectation is that Mexico, the U.S. and Canada will all be handed automatic qualification).
The past 12 months have been somewhat of a wasted year for the USMNT. They have drifted along with no clear direction.
Amid the USSF presidential elections they lost plenty of time to plan and put key GMs and coaches in place to get this team back to where it needs to be. Interim head coach Dave Sarachan has done a very decent job steadying the ship and integrating young talent but this feels like the U.S. has just been treading water.
With an 18 month gap between that fateful night in Couva to their next meaningful game, a 2019 Gold Cup group stage opener in June, the U.S. men’s national team have become a bit of an afterthought.
In the next decade or so we will be talking about October 10, 2017 as either the key date where the USMNT turned itself around, or the day when things began to go badly wrong for the program.
With a promising group of youngster coming through, it seems like the former will be true. But as the USMNT acknowledge themselves, the road ahead will be an arduous one. If the future is really going to be “US” then first they need a new head coach and to get the ball rolling as to what the identity and plan is for this team.
There has been too much time standing still. The USMNT needs to get their act together, fast, if they’re going to rebound successfully from what happened one year ago today. This anniversary acts as a painful reminder as to just how much work still needs to be done to restore pride in the U.S. men’s national team.