The United States Men’s National team is at its lowest point in decades. More embarrassing than the faux denim kits of 1994 was our loss to Mexico in Saturday’s CONCACAF Cup.
In their biggest game since playing Belgium in the round of 16 at Brazil (and probably the most important US-Mexico game since 2002), the USMNT was thoroughly outclassed by their neighbor to the south, Mexico. The Yanks just let El Tri boss the game for large stretches. The possession was disgustingly lopsided. Mexico pushed a focused attacked that never let up while, while we barely held on. Once upon a time, a result like this was par for the course but the Yanks have since held a 3-0-3 record against Mexico. American supporters were getting used to a level of success and suddenly those expectations are very much in jeopardy.
The USMNT is suffering on the pitch, while soccer enjoys record success off it. I was temporarily out of the little soccer nirvana that is Seattle, visiting suburban D.C. for a friend’s wedding. Saturday night found us at a pre-nuptial’s festivity bowling. Amongst late college football games and booming music videos, the CONCACAF CUP played on 2 big screens at the bowling alley. I had expected a night of phone checking, but was thoroughly impressed.
Soccer is gaining traction in this country: the recent World Cup fever, the USWNT Olympic and World Cup victories, major EPL and Bundesliga TV deals, the rise of MLS and yet… the “flagship” team can’t beat Jamaica, Panama or Mexico when it matters? For soccer to hit its US tipping point, the USMNT must be successful. But potential soccer fans have been greeted with mediocrity on the pitch.
Let’s be real a second… the majority of Americans’ relationship to sporting teams is star-crossed. There’s a lot more suffering fans of Philadelphia, Cleveland and San Diego teams than the Yankees and Patriots. But when it comes to international competition, Americans expect success. The Stars and Stripes is a country of winners, be it basketball, gymnastics, hockey, or track.
Our lackluster soccer achievements have never been a problem because, you know, who cares about soccer? But that cognitive dissonance, stinking at the world’s game, while running the world, is finally ebbing. Many of us actually want to be good at soccer now. If the USMNT wants to capture the hearts and minds of US sports fans, losing key games in our region must end.