The United States was embarrassed on the global stage, and this time it had nothing to do with Donald Trump.
The U.S. men’s soccer team was the culprit. The squad lost to Trinidad and Tobago, one of the worst teams in the world, eliminating the U.S. from the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl called the loss “the most embarrassing failure in U.S. soccer history.”
It’s the first World Cup the U.S. has missed since 1986, and it comes at an otherwise promising period for American soccer. Major League Soccer is expanding, league attendance is through the roof, and clubs are beginning to emulate European-style youth academies.
The roster boasts solid young talent, including 19-year-old Christian Pusilic, who has the potential to become America’s first major soccer superstar on the level of Lionel Messi. He’s made waves in Germany’s Bundesliga and as recently as last week for the U.S. national team. But on Tuesday night, he came up empty like the rest of the squad.
Some chalked the result against Trinidad up to a soggy field. But for a country expected to be taken seriously on the world stage of soccer, that’s not good enough. Argentinians or Brazilians would never blame this kind of humiliation on field conditions–they’d rightfully pin it on their team’s stars and coaches. It’s that kind of pressure that allows such countries to thrive internationally.
There’s also sports dilution in America that doesn’t exist in soccer-dominant countries. Growing up in South America or Europe, soccer is a way of life. It’s everything. In the United States, we place more value on football, basketball and baseball. Our country’s best athletes don’t grow up with a soccer ball at their feet like German and French athletes do. Even with a larger population to pick from, that toll on talent plays itself out as our athletes reach the highest levels.
This iteration of the U.S. men’s soccer team felt a little different. The squad has the experience of the 2014 World Cup (where it reached the Round of 16) and the youthful speed and talent that put other countries over the top. America has been semi-soccer conscious for more than a decade and the results were finally showing. The U.S. expected to win games now, and fans were disappointed when it didn’t.
That’s what makes Tuesday’s loss all the more shocking. The U.S. was beaten by an objectively worse team with absolutely nothing to play for. Some of that can be chalked up to wet grass, some to fatigue, some to Trinidad playing out of its mind (and scoring this golazo). You could even call it Trump karma and I’d probably buy it.
But most likely it’s because the team started reading its press clippings too soon. They probably assumed things would be easy against a last-place team. Enough people said they were good for them to actually believe it, but when push came to shove they didn’t play like it. Now, they’re a global laughing stock.
Ain’t that American?