November 16, 2016
Is this the time the USA misses out on reaching soccer's promised land?
By Michael Lewis
Jurgen Klinsmann has a lot of work to do if he wants to ensure the USA doesn't miss out on its first World Cup since 1986.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
I can't recall exactly when the conversation occurred, but I certainly remember the contents of it.
It was a while ago when Filip Bondy and I were writing for the New York Daily News. Filip brought up this sobering subject and prediction:
Someday the United States will not qualify for the World Cup.
Is Russia 2018 the time when it happens?
Maybe, maybe not.
One thing is certain: the U.S. has dug itself a hole at the bottom of the hexagonal. The Americans find themselves in last place with a 0-2-0 record and minus four goal differential.
Forget about the shovels, we might need a bulldozer or two.
Moreover, the the Americans' horrendous performance was quite worrisome and head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's ongoing questionable tactical decisions.
Klinsmann deployed a 3-5-2 formation for the 2-1 defeat to Mexico in Columbus, Ohio Friday night and switched it as captain Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones came to the coach and asked to revert back to a 4-4-2. The Americans performed better in the second half.
On Tuesday night, there were concerns about his lineup and why he did have someone creative such as Sacha Kljestan in the Starting XI and worries that he did not insert the Red Bulls midfielder until the team was four goals down. I kind of remember Kljestan being a force in two September qualifiers and a pair of October friendlies.
The scary part was the USA gave up in the second half, showed no fire, an attribute that has defined the team through the years. You can point the fingers at the players and Klinsmann, who should have his players motivated and focused to go 90 minutes and whatever stoppage time is added.
No team, well, no team but Brazil, has reached every World Cup. Even some of the great soccer countries of the world, which includes world champion Germany, Italy, Spain, Argentina and France, among others (including England) have missed out in the past.
We have become spoiled since 1990, which began a streak of seven consecutive World Cup appearances. It has become so commonplace, I think that many American soccer fans consider it pre-ordained or a birthright.
Well, it's not. A World Cup appearance has to be earned through hard work, proper planning and using all the tools at your disposal.
Listen, I remember some of those lean years between 1950 and 1990 (close to the end of the USA's time in the international soccer desert) when the U.S. did not only miss out on the greatest show on earth, but were routed and embarrassed by Mexico on a regular basis. Now, that was quite humbling.
The start to this hexagonal has to humble all of us to some measure.
As it turns out, despite the show hex start and Tuesday night's debacle in Costa Rica, there is still plenty of time to rebound, although the margin of error has gotten smaller.
Fortunately for the U.S. and the six CONCACAF teams still standing in the final round of qualifying, the hexagonal can be quite forgiving.
Remember, the top three teams automatically qualify for Russia 2018 and the fourth-place side will play a team from the Asian Football Confederation in a special playoff next November.
On Tuesday night, beIN announcers and analysts were talking about what teams the United States might wind up playing in that playoff -- two games into the hex!
Can't say I don't blame them, but that's how dire things are this early in the competition.
So, the U.S. has to find a way to finish among the top four of six teams. Leader Costa Rica and Mexico seem like locks, so the Americans will battle with Honduras, Panama and Trinidad & Tobago for the final two berths.
It will be difficult, but not impossible.
If the Americans can't make up those lost points, the nightmare scenario will become reality next year: the U.S. not reaching World Cup for the first time since 1986.
Whether or not someday is right around the corner and Filip Bondy's fears are realized, it remains to be seen. The USA has a lot of digging to do to put his doomsday prediction to rest.