For the 620,000 beIN Sports and Universo viewers of the U.S. exit from the 2018 World Cup in a
tiny stadium in Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday night, watching was torture.
"The most disturbing part for me was the lack of urgency displayed," Landon Donovan said on the Dan Patrick Show. "We all know in sports anything can happen, you can lose games, that's all part of it, but the lack of urgency to really understand what was at stake was really disheartening for me, and, candidly, it was really hard to watch."
'There’s no royal road, unless you’re Brazil or Germany.' Stefan Szymanski, a University of Michigan professor and author of “Money and Soccer," said the randomness of soccer -- a low-scoring sport -- is what makes it so maddening.
“This is what being a soccer fan is like,” Szymanski told the New York Times. “You’re prone to the extreme event all the time. There’s no royal road, unless you’re Brazil or Germany.”
Reaction from American players in MLS was just beginning to come in. “Massively disappointing,” Atlanta United's Michael Parkhurst told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. “Shock. Disbelief." Teammate Jacob Peterson defended the players’ desire if not the urgency Parkhurst saw was lacking. “I know that all of them care,” he said. “They would do anything to make the World Cup. I can guarantee that all of those guys are devastated.”
'The loss is a disaster for Fox Sports.' In 2013, it was suggested it would cost Mexico $600 million if El Tri didn't qualify. It went through four coaches in two months, made the intercontinental playoffs thanks to the USA's 3-2 win over Panama in the final game of the Hexagonal and easily beat New Zealand. Mexico did not return the favor on Tuesday night, leaving everyone scrambling to quantify the costs of not qualifying.
Mexico could see the trouble coming a mile away. No one here ever imagined the USA couldn't get a result at T&T. "It is not a good look or feeling," Fox Sports analyst Alexi Lalas told BBC World Service. "It will have repercussions."
It's hard to quantity the financial cost to Fox Sports, the English-language rights holder of the World Cup for the first time, but not having the USA in the tournament will cost it millions of viewers of the U.S. games it can't make up elsewhere. Noted SI.com's Richard Deitsch, "Hyperbole is the drug of choice these days in the sports media but the loss is a disaster for Fox Sports. Disaster. That is the correct word."
One critical word Deitsch used is "momentum" as in the World Cup is a "momentum tournament," building interest in the USA as each game is played. Just as critically is the buildup to the tournament, the seven months between the draw and opening games a nation has to get ready.
That was one of the arguments Gulati, a member of the FIFA Council, had made in explaining why he supported the expansion of the World Cup from 32 teams to 48 in 2026. The buildup to the tournament is as important for soccer in a country as the week or two or four its team is in the tournament.
We'll get to see just what it is like to not have that buildup over the seven months from the draw to the finals.
'He just shouldn’t be the U.S. Soccer president anymore.' A lot of the criticism of Gulati and Arena came from comments they made after the game. Arena: "Nothing has to change." Gulati: "You don’t make wholesale changes based on the ball being two inches wide or two inches in."
SI.com's Grant Wahl said those comments summed the essence of the problem: "U.S. Soccer's resistance to calls for new ideas and strategies." He argues that Gulati could still have a role to play as chairman of the United World Cup bid committee and member of the FIFA Council. But Wahl writes, "He just shouldn’t be the U.S. Soccer president anymore. U.S. Soccer won’t get many obvious opportunities to make the necessary changes to join the modern era. The time is now."