Cheated. That's the feeling. You wait four years for something, anticipating, savoring, and then ... nothing. The world is throwing itself a party over the next month, and we're not invited. We are on the wrong side of the glass, able to see and hear the fun, but not partake.
This is not a politically correct attitude. I'm aware. Soccer is the global sport, maybe the only truly universal language, and there is wonderful meritocracy to reaching its grandest stage. I mean, Iceland qualified for the 2018 World Cup but Italy didn't!? How ridiculously wonderful. Iceland!
Level playing fields make anything possible.
We Americans might have a tendency toward entitlement but that doesn't apply here. The United States men's national soccer team wasn't invited to the 2018 World Cup now underway in Russia because it did not earn its way in. The American side was eliminated last fall in a stunning 2-1 qualifying loss to Trinidad and Tobago.
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The U.S. team wasn't cheated. Its fans were.
It's a major bummer, and one sure to be reflected in U.S. World Cup television ratings on Fox.
Coast to coast we should be plotting where we would be to watch the first U.S. match. It would be someplace raucous and beyond crowded, because soccer is best enjoyed communally, its fans a fraternity.
Four years ago my son and I and friends watched the U.S.-Portugal match at Mickey Byrne's Irish Pub in downtown Hollywood, a hangout of the local chapter of the American Outlaws soccer fan network. The crowd in the place was wall-to-wall thick. Spontaneous chants of "U-S-A!" bloomed like fireworks. Pints drained. Flags waved.
Then somebody shouted, "I believe!" A momentary hush fell over the place. Then everybody in the joint shouted, "I believe that we will win!"
Man, I will miss that these next few weeks.
I will miss the chance for me, Professional Neutral Observer when it comes to most sports I cover, being able to tap unabashedly into my patriotic side and root for my home team.
The U.S. team would reach the Round of 16 in that World Cup four years ago, a statement of arrival, or at least palpable progress. It seemed American soccer was finally past the days of struggling to even qualify, which it last failed to do in 1986. There was a sense the sleeping giant was awake, unlimbering itself and rising.
This marks regression.
It was nice this week that FIFA awarded the 2026 World Cup to the joint bid of the United States, Mexico and Canada, with Miami's Hard Rock Stadium all but certain to be one of the venues. The news would have augmented so sweetly in tandem with building excitement for what the U.S. team was about to do in Russia.
There is no substitute for when your home team didn't qualify. We'll still watch to see if anything can derail a Brazil-Germany final. To see if Lionel Messi can lift Argentina. To see what unexpected team might make its Cinderella run. But it won't be the same.
The new U.S. Soccer Federation president, Carlos Cordeiro of Miami, is charged with making sure a World Cup with no U.S. team in it does not happen again.
"I have every expectation that we can challenge [to win the World Cup] in 2026," Cordeiro said this week. "We win the medal in every sport around the world, just about, so why not soccer?"
Maybe by 2022, from among 326 million people in the United States, the national team will be able to find a couple of dozen young men who can play soccer as well as anybody in the world.
Meantime, in the void of the summer of '18, we will miss the kinship and the "U-S-A!" chants in a crowded pub like Mickey Byrne's.