Soccer in the States: Reflecting before USMNT’s last World Cup Qualifying games
Oct. 10, 2017: The final whistle sounds, and the United States Men’s National Team players drop to the ground in defeat after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. A younger Adam Jasper, along with his two brothers, do just the same in their living room. We all cried that night.
Today: The USMNT is on the verge of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, with three final fixtures against Mexico, Panama and Costa Rica for all the marbles. Ahead of the games, I thought it would be worthwhile to reflect on the USMNT’s journey in the form of an open letter from my present-day self to Adam Jasper from that fateful fall night in 2017:
First and foremost, I know it hurts. I’m sad to report that you’re gonna have to live with it for a while, longer than you would like to think. In fact, you won’t ever forget this night.
Yes, you just witnessed the worst 90 minutes of soccer that you will ever watch. Thankfully, the players that you’re infuriated with right now? Many of them won’t be around too much longer. A lot is going to change — let me fill you in.
You’re gonna have to sit through some turmoil. Bruce Arena is going to step down as manager, and a guy named Gregg Berhalter is going to take the reins. He’s a Jordan-wearing, behind-the-back passing menace on the sideline, and he’s got the flair you’ve wanted in a USMNT manager for a while. That being said, I’m not sold on him just yet, as his tactics and team selection have been suspect to say the least. These upcoming games could very well decide his fate.
One of the few surviving players from the team you just watched is, unsurprisingly, Christian Pulisic. He’s on your favorite club team now, and he’s become your favorite player. Pulisic’s got a bright future, and he’s already had some unforgettable moments that I’m certain you’ll be excited to witness.
But, unlike your current time period, Pulisic isn’t the only player to be excited about. You won’t believe me, but the majority of the USMNT starting eleven now plays in top European leagues. They’re calling it the “golden generation” of United States soccer.
Tim Weah, Weston McKennie, Giovanni Reyna, Brenden Aaronson, Antonee Robinson, Sergiño Dest, Yunus Musah, Tyler Adams, Ricardo Pepi — I can say with confidence that every single one of those players has a very bright future with the team. You’ll learn who they are and to love them. They’re the future of this nation’s soccer aspirations.
The team has accomplished a lot so far, but getting back to the World Cup for the first time since 2014 is the ultimate goal — it always has been, ever since the failure in Trinidad and Tobago that you just witnessed.
The job is not done. The U.S. needs 5 points to essentially guarantee qualification, and 4 points gives them a very good chance at qualifying. It’s looking increasingly likely that today’s team will end up in a similar position to the team you just watched, needing at least a point going into the final match.
Ahead of the most important games the USMNT has played since 2017, players are dropping like flies. McKennie, Dest and Aaronson will all miss the final window with various injuries. I’m scared that the stars are aligned, that history is doomed to repeat itself, that I’ll end up on the floor like you are right now.
And, now, you’re all caught up. Now, our beloved national team is on the brink of success or failure once again. I’m very nervous. I can’t stop thinking about where you are, heartbroken and crying in the face of immeasurable frustration. That’s why I’m writing to you.
In the midst of a lot of anxiety, let me present you with a note of optimism, a shining glimmer of hope. There’s one big thing that makes this time different from last: They’ve already failed before. These players, this team, this nation knows the pain that you’re feeling all too well, and everyone’s desperate to replace it with joy. The memory is burned in the back of the players’ minds, and I have a feeling they have what it takes to avoid another failure.
No matter how the results shape up, I recognize how much of a privilege it has been to be a part of the USMNT’s journey. I know you’ll enjoy every up and down, all of the pageantry that makes the sport beautiful. For now, pick yourself up and wipe those tears, kid. You should be so excited for what’s in store.
Adam Jasper is a sophomore providing updates on the U.S. Men’s National Team and its road to qualifying for the World Cup as well as general soccer news. He is also a sports editor at the Daily Trojan. His column “Soccer in the States,” runs every other Thursday.