The United States men’s national team neared humiliation Tuesday night during their World Cup qualifying game in Honduras. In a match that should have taken the U.S. one step closer to qualification, forward Bobby Wood’s late finish in the 85th minute was needed to tie the game at 1-1.
The game was the United States' eighth game out of the 10 that make up the final stage of World Cup qualification in the CONCACAF region. The U.S. is joined by five other nations in a round robin group format, with the top three teams advancing to the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The fourth-place team will play a home-and-away playoff series against the wildcard team from the Asian Football Confederation.
With nine points, the United States is currently tied for fourth place with Honduras, leading bottom-of-the-table Trinidad and Tobago by six points. Topping the group is Mexico, who has already qualified with 18 points and are followed by Costa Rica and Panama, who have 15 and 10 points, respectively.
With one month until its last two qualifying matches against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago, the United States will be able to control its own destiny to qualify for next summer. The two games should not cause the U.S. trouble, as the team drew at Panama 1-1 in March and defeated Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 in the U.S. in June.
However, recent struggles indicate the long-term worry for the United States as the team focuses on getting into the World Cup. During the six qualifying games under coach Bruce Arena, the team has just two victories — both home matches against Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago.
The biggest problem regarding the World Cup for the United States, currently ranked at No. 26, is that there will not be sides like Honduras or Trinidad and Tobago, who, according to the FIFA rankings, are at 75 and 83 in the world. In the 2014 World Cup, only three teams were ranked outside the top 50, with all of the United States’ opponents in the top 40.
If the team wants to succeed, they have to look past qualification. With other nations vastly improving, such as smaller European countries and improved Middle Eastern sides, the U.S. will need to forget their current generation of players and work on its youngsters.
Former U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann worked to orchestrate a new system in American soccer, mirroring European ways, which helped countries control soccer worldwide.
For the 2014 World Cup, Klinsmann brought 12 players from European club teams onto his 23-man squad, allowing Americans with experience in top-tier leagues to excel while letting go of U.S. legends such as Landon Donovan.
In contrast, Bruce Arena has half as many players from European clubs on the most recent squad, giving American-grown players, mostly from the MLS, spots on the team.
For next summer, there is not much to be done for a drastic change. However, moving forward, the national team can allow current youngsters to learn from veterans like Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, who have all played for European clubs, but the younger players need to take front stage.
Parting ways with players should also lead to letting go of head coaches. The United States Soccer Federation needs to look at younger coaches who themselves are in their respective primes with proven success at the club level, such as former U.S. player Peter Vermes, coach of Sporting Kansas City, or David Wagner, coach of English Premier League team Huddersfield Town.
With changes not in personnel, but through development and as a federation as a whole, the USMNT will see a definitive growth into a more competitive squad, appropriately feeding into the optimism for future World Cups.