A couple of weeks ago, I said
that it will take a small miracle for the USA not to
qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Well, actually, that small miracle happened and the USA did not qualify for the WC 2018. Miracles do happen in soccer and that is the beauty of the game. Miracles
in single games happen pretty regularly. Miracles even happen in tournaments and leagues. Winning the Euro 2014 was a miracle for Greece and the same is true for Leicester City by winning the EPL.
Miracle is a positive phenomenon, so for Panama it was a miracle to go the World Cup for the first time. Also miracles do not happen for the same team over and over, and then it is not a miracle. I
can assuredly say that USA will qualify for the World Cup in 2022 and Panama will not.
What we should look at is the direction USA has been going over the years. Let us not forget that
Netherlands (finalist in three World Cups) did not qualify for World Cup 2018. Italy has yet to pass the playoff stage to qualify. So sometimes teams do not qualify for the World Cup and that is not
the end of the world. But the USMNT is in a unique position; they are in Concacaf which sends 3 teams (plus one more with play-off) to the WC. In Concacaf, there are usually only two or three teams in
the top 30 FIFA rankings. (Right now, Mexico is 16th, Costa Rica is 22nd and the USA is 27th.) Panama, which is ranked 49th, will go the WC and Honduras (ranked 69th) has a chance, too. That is what
it hurts. I asked the question many times: If USA competed in UEFA or Conmebol will they have qualified for the WC each time since 1990? The answer is definitely not.
I see 1990 as the
genesis of modern soccer in the USA. That is the year when USA qualified for the World Cup since 1950. A few years prior to 1988, USSF made a courageous decision to bid for the 1994 World Cup.
FIFA granted USSF the right to host the World Cup in 1994 with the condition that a professional league should start in the USA. In 1996, MLS kicked off. So it is safe and fair that 1990 was the
beginning of modern and established soccer in the USA.
Did we -- as the wealthiest and the most overall successful sporting nation -- make the leap that everyone expected of us in the 27
years since then? I was here in the 80s (1978-1987). I watched the game to develop immensely for both genders in those years. In the late 1980s, there was not a single national outdoor professional
soccer league. I came back two years ago. Although now we have 4 million registered players, three professional leagues for the men and incredible facilities -- both for grassroots and professional
soccer -- I personally did now witness the development in soccer that one would expect from the superpower of the Olympics. My impression might be subjective, so let us have a look at numbers for the
USA since 1990.
Since 1990, the USA competed in every World Cup. Even Mexico -- which is usually ranked higher than USA -- did not qualify for one World Cup -- it was barred from
competing in 1990 -- in that time frame. We played 26 games in seven World Cups. We won five games, tied six and lost 15. It gives us a winning ratio of 19.2 percent and 0.81 points per game.
U.S. men's national teams (1990-2017):
|Won % |
|U-17 World Cup |
|46 ||16 ||7 ||23 ||34.8% ||1.20 ||15 times |
|U-20 World Cup |
|41 ||17 ||6 ||18 ||41.5% ||1.39 ||11 times |
|World Cup |
|26 ||5 ||6 ||15 ||19.2% ||0.81 ||7 times
Two U-17 World Cup ties were shootout losses (1991 and 1999). U-17 World Cup record does not include 2017.
On the FIFA rankings, we are currently
27th and with an overall average of 20th since the inception of FIFA rankings in 1993. Our highest ranking was 8th in 2002 and the lowest ranking of 32nd in 1998. If we look at the USA's graph of annual rankings
, we do not see a steady improvement. At best it can be described as rather
cyclical. If now you look at Belgium’s rankings
or Germany’s graph
, you will see a steady improvement over the last 10 years. The improvement starts a few years after
the commencement of their new development programs.
How about the U.S. youth teams? The U-17s were 5th –- their best performances since 1990 -- three times (1991, 2001, and 2005).
They qualified 12 times (out of 14). Excluding the U-17 World Cup, where the USA faces England Saturday in the quarterfinals, it has played 46 games, won 16, tied seven and lost 23 with a winning
ratio of 34.8 percent and 1.20 points per game. (Two of the ties were losses on penalty kicks to Qatar in 1991 and Australia in 1999.)
The U-20s qualified 11 (out of 14) times for the
U-20 WC, which is also held biennially. Their best performance of fourth place came in before the “genesis” in 1989. After 1990, their best achievement was in 2003: fifth place. They
played 41 games in 11 tournaments won 17, tied six and lost 18 with a winning ratio of 41.5 percent and 1.39 points per game.
It is obvious that our youth men’s national teams do
better than the USMNT. Even then, their achievement is sporadic and not sustainable.
The numbers support my subjective observation that since 1990, the USMNT did not show a continuous and
sustainable improvement trend. This is a fact.
After the “fiasco” a few days ago, one can easily point the finger at Bruce Arena
, the players, the bad field or the
“phantom” goal at the game between Panama and Costa Rica. Or one can easily blame the woodwork that did not allow Clint Dempsey
’s shot. All those are meaningless, even blaming
Even if we qualified for the World Cup, the fact that the USMNT is not where it should be will not be altered. That fact would be overlooked by the
stakeholders until USMNT is eliminated at the group or knockout stage in Russia. Even then stakeholders will be hopeful for the 2022 WC for no good reason.
The only thing to blame is the
system. Unless we overhaul the system radically and completely like the Germans or the Belgians some other Ahmet Guvener would be writing similar articles 20 years later.
Right now, the
soccer system is semi-Americanized. I never heard of Germanization or Japanization of football, but based on our cultural arrogance of being the wealthiest superpower nation and having the best
leagues in the world in other team sports dictates us that we must Americanize soccer for success.
Currently it is semi-Americanized. My article on “13 Unique Applications” summarizes
what is Americanized in soccer. So far, the semi-Americanized approach or
system for 27 years yielded very few positive results. The fact is that since 1990 the USMNT did not show a continuous and sustainable improvement trend.
Being semi-Americanized is like
being semi-pregnant. You are either pregnant or not. You have to decide what you want to be.
One option is to let the American culture take over completely. Some people support
this idea. Let soccer flourish in high schools and colleges like
football, basketball do. Let U.S. Soccer play the role of USA Basketball play in basketball and just be responsible for the national teams. They even think that MLS should play with the rules that the
owners want and not by the LOTG. These people think that is the American way and that is the road to success. Although I do not agree with them, I cannot categorically say that it will not be
successful although it sure will take longer. It will definitely be decades before USMNT becomes a first-tier MNT. Then you do not have to worry about the 13 unique applications of Americanization,
the system will completely be Americanized. Of course, how FIFA will approach this is another question to ponder about.
The other option is to completely de-Americanize the game; get rid
of all unique approaches to the game and play and manage the game like the rest of the world. Naturally in doing so; you have to consider the socio-economic and geographical constraints of the country
when you are redesigning. You will also have to abandon the arrogant approach of saying that we are different than the rest of the world, so we will do it our way. Maybe the only difference in soccer
for the USA is its size of the country and the diversity it embraces. The latter one could be a great asset. This approach will require quite a battle with the establishment; the businesses of the
pay-to-play system and the professional leagues.
You need to have a very tactful, political but yet decisive approach. In other words you have to attack the windmills, but you cannot be a
Don Quixote. The mistakes made in the past in creating the semi-Americanized approach will haunt you in your pursuit of the de-Americanization of the game.
After the USA-T&T game,
Tyler Twellman was on ESPN, telling
the public what has to be done after the
fiasco. I thought that I was on TV. He said everything I had been advocating since I started writing for Soccer America. Not that I know better, but that is the road to go; follow the rules of the
The new approach should have three lighthouses to take us through the stormy and dangerous sea:
-- Soccer is a global game we must play the game like the rest of
the world. Playing the game includes the management and governance of the game like the rest of the world does. It includes everything from the structure of the professional leagues, the youth
development landscape and finding a way to bypass “pay-to-play” model.
-- U.S. Soccer should not position itself behind the “law of the land” but rather the FIFA
statutes. There are many countries in which there is a clash between the law of the land and the FIFA statutes. In those countries, either the law of the land is modified or a method is found for the
FIFA statutes to be in line with the law of the land.
It is nearly impossible if not impossible to develop soccer stars from the kids of overprotective suburban families who have no
soccer culture. We must embrace the kids that are left outside the system due to financial hardship. The suburban families feed the pay-to-play system. We have an immense population of rural or urban
African-Americans and Latinos that are left outside the pay-to-play system since they cannot afford it.
that NFL and NBA players do not come from suburban wealthy families but USMNT players
do. Who are more successful? The NBA/NFL players or the USMNT players. The kids of affluent suburban families always have a comfort cushion to fall onto in case they are not successful in
sports. The African-American kids of Caribbean origin and the Latino kids come from families with a soccer culture. Coming from a family with a soccer culture is extremely important in
developing soccer stars. Even if you come from a suburban family if you have a soccer culture in the family, you could be an exception and become a soccer star; have a look at Christian Pulisic
and Tim Weah
. We must embrace the talented kids left out by the “pay-to-play system." Those kids will bring us the success story of the USMNT that all of us are craving for. U.S. Soccer
has the finance for it. In 2016, the assets of U.S. Soccer
were $121.9 million and
its revenue $125.3 million.
We must decide whether we will Americanize the game or globalize it completely. There is no compromise or middle ground. We have seen that being half-pregnant
is futile. Ahmet Guvener (email@example.com) is the former Secretary General and the Technical Director of the
Turkish FA. He was also the Head of Refereeing for the Turkish FA. He served as Panel member for the FIFA Panel of Referee Instructors and UEFA Referee Convention. He now lives and works as a soccer
consultant in Austin, Texas.