Crew View: No World Cup for U.S.

Chris DeVille
Mexico forward Javier Hernandez (14) splits between USA midfielder Christian Pulisic (10) and USA midfielder Jermaine Jones (13) during the second half of the World Cup qualifier soccer match at Mapfre Stadium on Nov. 11, 2016.

The sky is falling.

Scratch that. It already fell. No need to seek cover. The damage is done.

The nightmare scenario U.S. Soccer has been staving off for decades finally transpired on Tuesday, Oct. 10. A 2-1 loss at Trinidad & Tobago, plus wins by Honduras and Panama, means the U.S. will miss the World Cup next year for the first time since 1986.

This is a catastrophe for American soccer. A new generation of players — including the phenomenal Christian Pulisic, who should really be given LeBron-style reign over the roster and coaching staff going forward — will miss out on the opportunity to compete and flourish at the highest level. Sponsorship money for U.S. Soccer and MLS may decrease significantly. Kids who might have grown up into USMNT fans or even USMNT stars might not discover the sport at all.

Tuesday's failure was embarrassing and inexcusable. Trinidad had lost eight of their last nine qualifiers. Against hapless scrubs with nothing to play for, a U.S. squad with everything on the line found a way to be worse.

It's not like the match was a fluke. This was the interrobang on a consistently dismal qualifying cycle that began last November with a loss to Mexico in Columbus — and that entire disastrous campaign was a symptom of an American soccer infrastructure that has long been skating by on mediocrity.

If anything good comes of this mess, it will be a radical reboot. The only way to hold U.S. Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati accountable is to fire him. Coach Bruce Arena should go too, as should many other leaders on and off the field. After such a collapse, continuity is not necessarily a plus. Anyone trapped in a “good enough” mindset is no longer good enough.

More than a purge is needed. U.S. Soccer must find the right people to replace the old guard, and fast. They need to enact youth soccer reforms, discover and elevate new talent, establish renewed vision, whip a revised player pool into fighting shape.

Getting back to the World Cup will be increasingly difficult now that other teams in the CONCACAF region are coming into their own, but U.S. Soccer should be looking farther than four years forward and backward. Building a sustainable, competitive program requires a full-scale culture change — a task about as easy as lifting the sky back into place.