USMNT

Soccer NIT is the most American idea of them all

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AP

Soccer NIT is the most American idea of them all

Either Peru or New Zealand will be the 32nd country to qualify for the 2018 World Cup (and depending on how late you read this today, one already will). This matters to you almost not at all because you are way too hot for the Soccer NIT.
 
Yes, there is a move afoot by some U.S, entrepreneurs to organize an ad hoc tournament of big-name countries that didn’t qualify for the World Cup (your Americans, you Italians, your Dutch, your Chileans, your Ivorians, et. al.), and it almost surely the most American idea of them all.
 
Greed-based, and stupid.
 
The teams that failed to qualify failed on the merits, as is always the case. The despair and tears and anger in the countries of the expelled were real, and will serve as the fuel for the next quadrennial chase for a berth in Qatar (or anywhere else on earth, if someone powerful comes to his or her senses).
 
But Americans have decided that if they can’t play with the big kids, they’ll set up their own game, as though there aren’t enough soccer competitions already, as though the idea of World Cup For Losers is something people have been craving, as though this wasn’t what it actually is.
 
Someone trying to force-feed us soccer we don’t care about because the soccer we do care about doesn’t include us. It’s the epitome of sore-loser-dom in search of a quick payday, a tantrum with ticket prices, and a trophy that reminds the winner that being name the 33rd-best team in the world is more insult than praise – just like the NIT’s search for the 69th best college basketball team in the country, the CBI’s search for the 85th best, and the CIT’s search for the 111th best.
 
Frankly, nobody should make a profit off the US Men’s National Team’s collapse. It should be a time for everyone to sit in the corner and reflect on all the advantages it barfed up in failing to qualify this time, not inflate some nonsense competition with other countries who should be bathing in equivalent bitterness.
 
After all, the United States of all places knows more about the value of an NIT than anywhere else, and that value is the answer to this question:
 
Without looking it up, name the last five NIT winners.
 
You can’t, and if you can, you should still be ashamed. I rest my case.

Again, US men's soccer miles away from where it thinks it should be

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AP

Again, US men's soccer miles away from where it thinks it should be

The United States will not be part of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and we will leave you to make all the political jokes you like about the rich veins of irony in that.
 
But this much is true, and indisputably so. When you lose to Trinidad and Tobago, you don’t get to complain about your fate. The U.S. earned the result it received by its play, by its roster, by its organization.
 
Truth is, except for the elite football-playing nations – Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Argentina – this sport is generational. Sometimes the talent is yours to command, sometimes it is not. It is no more complicated than that, and the U.S. was a hodgepodge of age and youth that never fully meshed, and will be remembered for its quizzical looks at each other when things went wrong.
 
But we try to make it that, especially when it comes to the U.S. The country is so big and so wealthy that the logic goes that it should never have fallow periods, but the young stars (re: Christian Pulisic) have always been too few and far between and overhyped by the country that invented hype and overhype. The U.S.’ great failing has been in believing what it tells itself about itself, and it is as it has been for 40 years – a second-level power who is subject to the same ebbs and flows of talent as, say, Sweden or Croatia or even The Netherlands, which failed to qualify this year.
 
And the U.S. is part of a group, CONCACAF (North and Central America), that is nowhere near as difficult as UEFA or CONMEBOL (South America), so this is a fresher reminder that the U.S. is miles away from where it thinks it should be, and probably will be for the rest of our lifetimes. It is structurally flawed from its youth programs up, and still it reached seven consecutive World Cups.
 
So maybe, in the final analysis, this is its true level – in more often than not, and a part of the World Cup without ever actually challenging for it. But “more often than not” includes times when it is not, and this was one of the times when it didn’t deserve to go any further than it did.

Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

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Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

COUVA, Trinidad — Twenty-eight years after one of the United States' most important victories came in stunning fashion at Trinidad to end a four-decade World Cup absence, the Americans' chances for the 2018 tournament in Russia ended on this island nation off the coast of Venezuela.

The U.S. was eliminated from World Cup contention Tuesday night, a shocking 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago ending a run of seven straight American appearances at soccer's showcase.

The Soca Warriors scored a pair of first-half goals, getting one off U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, and the United States made too many other mistakes to recover. The Americans are out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

"We let down an entire nation today," Gonzalez said.

Shocked American players slumped on the bench, and Matt Besler sat on the field after the final whistle as Panama's game ended and then Costa Rica's. At the end, dejected U.S. players filed into their locker rooms with blank looks.

"We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal," coach Bruce Arena said. "That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated."

The U.S. entered its final qualifier with a berth uncertain for the first time since 1989. Home losses to Mexico last November and Costa Rica left the Americans little margin for error.

The 28th-ranked Americans needed merely a tie against 99th-ranked Trinidad, which lost its sixth straight qualifier last week. But the defeat — coupled with Honduras' come-from-behind 3-2 win over Mexico and Panama's 2-1 victory over Costa Rica on Ramon Torres' 88th-minute goal — dropped the Americans from third place into fifth in the six-nation final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Mexico and Costa Rica already had clinched berths, and Panama claimed the third and final automatic spot and will go the World Cup for the first time. Honduras will meet Australia in a two-game playoff next month for another spot at next year's 32-nation tournament.

Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.

After an 0-2 start in the hexagonal last fall under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USSF replaced him last November with Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. The team revived with home wins over Honduras and Trinidad last spring and draws at Panama and Mexico. But the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica in New Jersey at the start of Labor Day weekend proved one hurdle too many to overcome.

The Americans fell behind in the 17th minute when Gonzalez made a casual attempt with his left foot to clear Alvin Jones' cross and sent the ball looping over the outstretched right arm of goalkeeper Tim Howard from 18 yards.

Jones doubled the lead in the 37th with a 35-yard strike, again to Howard's upper right corner, and nearly scored another in the 44th when his swerving shot bounced off Howard's chest and spilled into the penalty area.

Christian Pulisic, the Americans' 19-year-old star midfielder, scored in the 47th minute from the arc with a right-footed shot. He played a role in 12 of the 17 American goals in the hexagonal.

One minute later, Howard made a kick save on Shahdon Winchester's short-range shot, and DeAndre Yedlin blocked Levi Garcia's follow-up attempt.

The U.S. bench was tense, as Honduras scored twice early in the second half to take the lead over visiting Mexico in the 60th minute and Panama tied the score against visiting Costa Rica in the 52nd.

Clint Dempsey, who entered at the start of the second half, was denied by goalkeeper Adrian Foncette's leaping save in the 69th and hit a post from 22 yards in the 77th. Pulisic's shot in the 87th was saved by Foncette.

All American reserves were standing for much of the final minutes, and Arena had repeated exasperated looks.

"No excuses for us not getting the second goal and at least a point," Arena said. "It's a blemish for us."

Just a few hundred fans were in the stands at 10,000-capacity Ato Boldon Stadium, located 24 miles south of the capital, Port-of-Spain. Paul Caligiuri's famous goal at the National Stadium in 1989 put the U.S. in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

Among the spectators were a few dozen American Outlaws, the U.S. supporters group.

Water that had flooded the track surrounding the field ahead of the U.S. training session Monday was gone.