World Cup appearance on the line tonight in Trinidad

USA player DeAndre Yedlin, bottom, falls under Panama player Gabriel Torres (9) during World Cup qualifier match at Orlando City Stadium on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. The U.S. won, 4-0. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

USA player DeAndre Yedlin, bottom, falls under Panama player Gabriel Torres (9) during World Cup qualifier match at Orlando City Stadium on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Orlando, Fla. The U.S. won, 4-0. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

The last time the United States of America did not qualify for the World Cup was 1986.

While it would take a collapse of major proportions tonight for the Americans not to participate in the largest sporting event in the world in Russia next year, it’s interesting to note how far this country has come as a soccer nation since then.

That 1986 World Cup, held in Mexico, was not broadcast on live TV in this country. Soccer haters were dancing on the grave of the sport in this country two years after the demise of the North American Soccer League, the last in a long line of unsuccessful attempts to bring professional soccer to America. It was ten years before that line was broken with the founding of Major League Soccer, which has succeeded.

The USA had not qualified since 1950, and had few professional players to choose from. College players made up the bulk of the team, which lost out to Canada as the lone qualifier from CONCACAF (aside from Mexico, the host).

What makes all that relevant today is that there is a slight chance that the USA will miss out for the first time since then, despite the enormous strides the sport has taken in this country. 

Only the most strident and irrational haters will argue that the United States is not a “soccer country,” which was their eternal excuse for their jingoistic dismissal of the world’s most popular sport in the world’s most sports-obsessed nation.

In 1986, only a few hardcore fans noticed that the USA failed to qualify, and even they weren’t surprised. In 2017, if the perfect storm hits and the USA is left out (temporarily, more on that later), millions of fans will feel like disaster has struck. And they will be right.

Tonight, the US team will take on Trinidad & Tobago, the worst team left in the qualifying pool, just one win away from booking their place in Russia 2018.

Even a draw would likely get them through, barring outcomes in other games that would arouse suspicion of foul play if they come to pass. 

With a US draw with Trinidad, Panama would have to beat Costa Rica by more than seven goals or Honduras would have to beat Mexico by more than 13 goals in their games. Mexico and Costa Rica are the top two teams in the final group, and both have already qualified.

Even of one of those two nearly impossible things happens, the USA will have another chance to qualify. The fourth-place team in CONCACAF advances to a home-and-home play-in series with either Australia or Syria, the winner of which goes to Russia next summer.

But the most likely result is an American win over woeful Trinidad, which is playing for nothing having long been eliminated form qualifying. The USA, on the other hand, is riding a bit of momentum after its 4-0 thrashing of Panama Friday night.

Sadly, few people in this country will get to see the game. It is being shown on the little-known BeIn Sports Network, available only to satellite subscribers of DirecTV and Dish Network. That’s because the home teams sell the rights to their home games, and BeIn bought up the rights from a lot of the smaller CONCACAF nations before any of the more familiar American sports networks could bid for them.

Corruption is soccer is a thing, after all, especially lately. But, I digress.

Since the US qualification drought from 1950-90, the team has played in every World Cup since, and most likely will continue that streak.

And then, the countdown to June 14, 2018 begins.

avatar

Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

Leave a Reply