I read an article soon after the Trinidad and Tobago game where the author stressed the importance of the U.S. Men qualifying for the World Cup. He argued that the U.S. needed to make it because it gave the team a chance to speak for the rest of us, to highlight that we aren’t all nationalist egomaniacs. While this writer’s heart was in the right place, he missed the forest for the trees.
Undoubtedly, it is of the utmost importance that the United States qualify. We must engage the rest of the world in an arena a bit lighter than the United Nations or NATO. It’s important for other countries to view us in a light of humanity rather than aggression, admirable grace and passion instead of arrogance, but this is one area where politicians cannot be blamed
Much of the globe feels slighted by us. They see us as cocky and uncultured, and like it or not, we are accustomed to blatant and toxic ethnocentrism. That rubs a lot of people the wrong way. Sports and/or qualifying for the World Cup isn’t going to change that, but it’s certainly a good place to start.
Soccer matters. It’s vital for us to emphasize its relevance in this country, if for no other reason than to show the international community that we respect them. We must demonstrate that we want to be an international player not just in politics and power, but in sport and culture as well. As melodramatic as all this may sound, American culture reaches much farther than our political discourse ever will.
Sadly, by missing the World Cup we also missed one of our prime opportunities for global engagement. It’s not as though we are not capable of qualifying for the World Cup. History demonstrates this, and we have one of the easiest qualifying groups. We could field a better national team quite easily. It’s just not a priority. That must change, and it must change quickly.
I suppose there is a silver lining of sorts. Qualifying simply mattered more to the Central American countries who made it in our stead. Honduran celebrations lasted long into the night. Panama, who qualified for the first time, declared the next day a national holiday.
In the United States, all we got were angry ESPN tirades from former national team standouts and Twitter rants, then it was on to the beginning of the NBA Season and back to football. Otherwise, 95% of the general public and 80% of the sports world has already long forgotten about our failures. They took place only a week ago.
Obviously, there are many things in life more important than sports, yet this hasn’t stopped us from putting them on a societal pedestal in the past. To quote the film Concussion, “The NFL owns a day of the week, the same day the Church used to own. Now it’s theirs.”
In this capitalistic land where money talks, one would think that the richest country in the world with the third-largest population could at least try to be one of the 32 best teams in soccer. At the very least, a major network could have televised the game on which our World Cup hopes hinged. If football can claim supremacy over an entire day, surely soccer is worth at least 90 minutes.