For men’s soccer in the United States, seeing the women triumph in the 2019 World Cup should have provided a boost to their aspirations. And while it probably did give them a hearty dose of pride, it wasn’t enough to fire them to a CONCACAF Gold Cup win, losing to an under-strength Mexican team.
It was a loss that reminded fans of the national squad’s failure to make the men’s World Cup a year ago and another reason to question the entire setup of the men’s game.
Ten years ago, the Bleacher Report was discussing ways to fix the national team’s fortunes, but it doesn’t appear its advice did any good. After all, the ten-point plan in 2011 became a 28-point plan in 2017, suggesting the issues got worse, not better.
From class division to a lack of national identity; from poor scouting to limited professional youth-team coaches and an inadequate league system, the problems within US soccer are widespread and deeply entrenched.
Right now, unlike the women’s national team, which boasts some of the best players in the world, the “talent pool is shallow,” as Tom Dart says in his article for The Guardian. That’s certainly a byproduct of US Soccer, the governing body which oversees the game, failing in its mission to develop an adequate youth system. Success on the international stage remains a pipe dream, it seems.
Perhaps surprisingly, however, in his article “The Us Men’s Team are Now a Punchline” Dart does find positives that the USA team must take into the CONCACAF Nations League which starts in September.
He recalls a run of poor results prior to the tournament with warm-up defeats to both Jamaica and Venezuela that showed, despite the disappointment, where the team was and where it ended up – as finalists. It was an indication that the USA men had the mental strength to bounce back.
Now, while the nation will definitely make the 2026 World Cup finals as co-hosts, head coach Gregg Berhalter’s current challenge is getting into the 2022 event in Qatar. Without an injection of fresh talent, there’s a sense the men will struggle to compete on the biggest stage.
Given its recent form, qualification isn’t even a given. And with nations like the Riyad Mahrez-led Algeria recently upsetting the international football betting odds by triumphing in the Africa Cup of Nations, there are many second and even third-tier sides ahead of the USA, which is +10000 with bet365 at the moment. That is before you begin considering the top-ranked sides like Brazil, Argentina, France and Germany, who’ll be almost certainly competing at the World Cup 2022.
Berhalter will hope to continue building a team that can complement the skills of attacker Christian Pulisic (now the most expensive US player ever after his $73 million move to English Premier League side Chelsea) and the playmaking abilities of Weston McKennie amongst a handful of other young stars. The head coach’s fluid tactics with a unique right back/center midfield rotation may also give the USA an edge.
But 2022 may come too soon for the country to implement much-needed improvement to its grassroots set-up. Battling increasing adoration of the women’s game (data from Nielsen showed a 22% increase in US viewership between the Women’s World Cup final and the Men’s 2018 equivalent), a lack of quality competition domestically, and ingrained favoritism, at scholastic and professional level, towards culturally superior sporting endeavours (football, basketball, ice hockey and baseball), the USA is seemingly limping its way to World Cup qualifying.