YANKS ALL FOLKS
NATHANIEL BAKER LOOKS AT THE CONSEQUENCES OF THE USA FAILING TO QUALIFY FOR NEXT YEAR’S WORLD CUP IN RUSSIA
THE USA experienced their biggest football humiliation for close to 30 years last month when they spectacularly failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
The repercussions of this abject failure, brought about by a loss to Trinidad & Tobago, will be felt for years to come - and not just in America.
Start with the economics. Seems that would be a good place seeing how the US is, for better or worse, the defacto leader of the capitalist free world (a mantle we inherited from our former colonial master, as most of you reading this will be quick to claim. Fine, so it's all your fault. But let's stick to the topic here, shall we?).
The US is the world's largest consumer market and the largest source of television viewership. Fox paid more than $400 million for the (English-language) rights to broadcast the 2018 World Cup stateside.
In 2014, an average of 14 million Americans saw the USA's World Cup matches in Brazil, according to numbers compiled by Forbes. That's a lot of eyeballs.
While surely not all of the 14 million will tune out now that the US failed to qualify, a large portion most certainly will. In Brazil, games not featuring the US averaged just 3.9 million viewers, according to the New York Times.
So you're looking at a loss of about 10 million viewers. That's still a lot of eyeballs. It's also a lot of upset sponsors.
Then there is the tourism. In 2010 most visitors to South Africa came from the US. In Brazil, American visitors were the second-most numerous behind only Argentines.
Russia certainly could have used the American visitors, what with them buying our president and everything. That's now out the window (not the president. They still got him).
Probably a lot of American fans already booked tickets seeing how the US has qualified, mostly without issue, for every World Cup since Italia '90.
But surely many did not and it's hard to see they will now be making the investment of time and money to travel such a distance. That's less money for FIFA.
These factors add up to make soccer (or, if you prefer, football) a less attractive investment for American and global corporations. Which means a lot of money could soon be leaving the game stateside.
While this may sound like a welcome proposition to many readers, particularly those in the UK longing for a "purer" game unsullied by the evils of pound sterling and euro (to say nothing of petrodollars and renminbi), the sport is on far shakier ground in the US. We need all the help we can get from corporate sponsors. American clubs in Major League Soccer don't make much money from TV for the simple reason that American viewers would rather watch the Premiership.
The gate receipts are pretty healthy, but not healthy enough to support all the training infrastructure necessary for the game to continue to advance stateside.
That advancement is needed was made readily apparent by the qualifying campaign. Two different managers, one German (Jurgen Klinsmann), the other American (Bruce Arena) produced the same string of poor results.
Two losses to Costa Rica. A draw against Panama. The first home loss to Mexico in World Cup qualifying since 1972. Finally, the loss against Trinidad when a point would have seen us through to qualification or at the very least a play-off versus Australia. Embarrassing.
England's loss to Iceland was bad but at least that came during the knockout stage of the Euros. Imagine if it had cost you a
spot in the tournament. The problem lies in the player pool, in that there are simply not enough good American players.
Our best right now is a teenager, Christian Pulisic. The 19-year-old winger happens to be one of very few plying his trade for a top team in Europe (Borussia Dortmund).
The rest play for MLS sides, which many have argued has hurt their games. There may be merits to this argument seeing how poor the level of play in the MLS still is.
But sending players like Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore back to Europe would likely be a short-term solution at best.
More, and better skilled, players are needed, and that’s urgent. Few Americans can play with both feet. Many can't even trap the ball properly and fewer still can read the game or position themselves the way they're supposed to. And yes, these are national team players.
That these problems continue to persist a full generation after the US hosted the World Cup speaks to a fundamental flaw with the way the game is taught and coached. The US at the World Cup was a rite of passage for a generation of fans. The last time we even had to worry about qualifying was for the 1990 World Cup. In the deciding game of that cycle, a goal by Paul Caligiuri, a Californian then playing in Germany's second division, gave the US their first World Cup appearance since 1950 - ironically at the very same ground where the US capsized so disastrously last month.
In ’94 we qualified automatically as hosts and it was smooth sailing every time since.
That run of success is now over and with it a sense of confidence has been lost. US soccer is now in crisis. Drastic changes are needed if it is going to avoid spiraling downwards.
Nathaniel Baker is an American who grew up in Europe, where at an English school he developed an unhealthy obsession with Tottenham Hotspur. He is the chief contributor to the Soccer Source blog, available at soccersource.blogspot.com
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