Two years ago yesterday, the United States men were eliminated from World Cup contention with a devastating loss to Trinidad & Tobago, missing out on the big dance for the first time in eight cycles.
It was a disaster of epic proportions, a miss so colossal it promised to bring with it sweeping changes and overhauls in order to prevent it from ever happening again.
And yet, two years on, has anything significant really changed?
The feeling of uncertainty, pessimism, and confusion still reigns strong with the USMNT setup, and despite the cataclysmic event in Couva two years ago, little has actually changed for the program. The talent pool is subject to endless experimentation with little established consistency in the starting lineup, the youth setup is struggling to recruit talented dual nationals, and results are still below the expected level of competition and growth.
Gregg Berhalter, as far as we know, has not fundamentally changed much with his hire. Billed as a new era of the USMNT, the same players are still called in, the same mistakes plague the team on the field, and there is little improvement to give fans hope for the future.
Inspecting the other high-profile teams that missed the 2018 World Cup – the Netherlands and Italy – both have made sweeping changes and ushered in a youth movement that has brought marketable changes to the squad. The Netherlands immediately progressed to the Nations League final behind a youth backbone that took Ajax to the Champions League semifinals, while Italy is perfect through six matches of Euro 2020 qualification under Roberto Mancini after making sweeping changes to the youth setup.
In fact, the USMNT is poised to potentially lose a key dual national to the Netherlands in Sergino Dest, who is still deciding on his future despite having played for the United States youth setup.
Meanwhile, the United States’ youth movement has sputtered. Weston McKennie’s development has stalled amid his inability to reign in his wild and erratic tendencies. Tyler Adams, John Brooks, and Timothy Weah have contracted the injury bug, while Christian Pulisic is stuck on the bench while he integrates into the Chelsea squad. Jonathan Gonzalez was wooed by Mexico and now they could lose Dest too as some accuse U.S. Soccer of failing to remain in constant contact with potential prospects. Just last week Berhalter naively said, “it’s not U.S. Soccer’s job to develop players.”
Despite a promise to turn over a new leaf, the U.S. is still light years behind where it should be expected to be. They were beaten by Mexico in the Gold Cup final by Tata Martino, who wasn’t even contacted about the U.S. vacancy and subsequently hired by their arch rivals. They were thumped 3-0 by the same squad weeks later in a friendly on home soil. An unconvincing draw against a Uruguay B side didn’t do much to alleviate the pessimism days later.
While the U.S. still sorts through its numerous litany of struggles, fans are wondering when the promised changes will come. Questions remain for Berhalter as he continues the rebuild, with an over-reliance on players from his old stomping grounds Major League Soccer often casting doubt onto his ability to select a squad.
CONCACAF Nations League play looms tonight, with a matchup against Cuba before a game against Canada on Tuesday. This is a chance for the U.S. men to slowly rebuild trust within the fan base. It will take a significant finish in the competition to sway those with doubts, but it is possible to start somewhere. Still, the signs point to continued frustration and uncertainty in the future, and there is much work ahead to undo that.
Ultimately, two years from D Day, would one be surprised if another Couva repeat took place again? Is this squad past the devastating loss to a point where it’s avoidable? If fans waffle on answering those questions affirmatively, has the group really moved on? There is still a long way to go, and World Cup qualifying begins in less than a year’s time.