Ripple effects of missing World Cup to be felt everywhere

Published 8:45 pm Thursday, October 12, 2017

The United States will not play in next summer’s World Cup after losing to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday. It’s the first time America won’t be represented on soccer’s grandest stage since 1986, and it’s going to set the entire nation’s program back.

Veteran players like goalkeeper Tim Howard and forwards Clint Dempsey likely won’t play in another World Cup. Wonder child Christian Pulisic will be, at the youngest, 25 years old when he plays in it for the first time.

All of those are deflating realities for American soccer enthusiasts. None is more disheartening than what is to come for the state of soccer in the country.

“I think it’s a huge setback. I think, in my older years here, I realize more and more how popular soccer becomes during the World Cup,” Washington soccer coach Jim Kozuch said. “It brings out fans, people who aren’t soccer players, and makes them more aware of what’s going on.”

Southside coach Jay Petty added, “American soccer has been fighting for about the last 30 years to at least be equivalent with some of the other world teams. Us not making the World Cup this year, yeah, it’s a major blow.”

That’s exactly it. It’s a major blow. Many, though, have argued recently that this development will lead to the next Pulisic picking up a basketball instead of a soccer ball. That shouldn’t be the primary concern. Could it happen? Sure. However, a child that grows up wanting to play soccer is going to play soccer.

Football and basketball reign in eastern North Carolina. Think of the most popular teams in the area: colleges like East Carolina, North Carolina and North Carolina State. Then there are the Panthers and Hornets.

Then think of the number of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Neymar jerseys one can see during, say, a stroll around the waterfront. Kids around the world grow up idolizing the best players. For soccer fans, few, if any, are American.

On the other hand, while that may be true of kids across the nation, eastern North Carolina is a blue-collar area. Patriotism is a significant part of the culture. Representing the national team may not be as high a priority as playing for a Champions League club in Europe, but it’s still a goal young players here shoot for.

“These kids, when I talk to them, that’s what they’re talking about. They’re talking about teams like Barcelona and Chelsea,” Petty said. “But I think that, given an opportunity, they would play for the national team.”

Missing the World Cup is going to prevent USA soccer, on a national level, from taking the next step forward. The sport has no respect relative to other professional sports. Football, basketball and baseball all dominate the rest of the world on a regular basis. Even American hockey is competitive enough to be a top-three program in the world.

“For the respect of the sport, people in America think of soccer as a fifth-tier sport,” Kozuch said. “If we made a push in the World Cup — not even to win the World Cup, but become a top-10 team in the world — I think that would help advance the game so much.”

There are more questions than answers right now. No one really knows how to fix the problem. The only thing for sure is that there is a problem, and it’s affecting the sport on a nationwide level.