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 Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Football -

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-

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