Back to the drawing board for American World Cup dream
Failure to reach Russia is a major setback for a country favourite to host the biggest event on the global football stage in 2026
The last time the US men’s football team failed to qualify for a World Cup finals, the tournament in 1986, the country was without even a national outdoor professional competition after the collapse of that splendidly decadent 1960s creation, the North American Soccer League.
When it happened again on Tuesday, the American team did so with Major League Soccer in unprecedented health. The average MLS attendance is at 21,692, a 40 per cent increase in the past 10 years. The value of an MLS franchise has gone from $20million (£15million) five years ago to $125million (£95million). When Fifa announced the first round of ticket applications, fans from the US were among the top 10 nationalities outside Russia showing the most interest. The US looks oddson to host the 2026 tournament.
So, what happened? Like many in American soccer, Darren Eales, the English president of new MLS franchise Atlanta United, watched the US team’s failure with disbelief. The former Tottenham Hotspur club secretary has presided over his new club breaking the MLS attendance record in their firstseason run to the play-offs and regards the World Cup as a major part of promoting the game to its massive domestic audience.
“Soccer is obviously growing over here, but every four years you get the rocket fuel for that growth,” he says. “We have new fans watching in bars, youth soccer participation went up nine per cent in 2014 [after the US run to the second round of the World Cup]. It brings in more casual fans. We have avid soccer fans and Atlanta is an example of that. At a World Cup, we might attract college [American] football fans, basketball fans. It’s a pathway into the sport. This is a real lost opportunity.”
“A stunning combination of results” was how The New York Times described the potential scenario in which the US would not qualify, but stunning they were, with the US losing to Trinidad and Tobago, and Hon-