Feeling failure: How USMNT youngsters can put World Cup qualifying shame to use

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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It’s not entitlement – but something like it

Not that Pulisic or anyone else necessarily took things for granted. None of this rises to the mark of full entitlement – but it’s something uncomfortably close. It probably speaks to a certain feeling of privilege that, with some hindsight, we all sort of suspect may have infected the current generation of 20- and 30-something Yanks. The United States always qualifies for the World Cup. Or course it does!

Whatever it is, it removes some urgency from the effort.

Even institutionally there was some measure of complacency at work. Take the choice to have a qualifier against Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena. Make no mistake, the venue choice isn’t why the U.S. looked so incapable that night – but that’s not the point.

During the important venue selection process, it’s likely someone brought up the Costa Rican population in metro New York. But the place probably checked about 9 of 10 boxes and, well, that’s pretty good so “Let’s play there!”

But this ongoing sting will reinforce best practices. Next time someone will surely speak up to say, “No. We find a place that checks 10 of 10, and competitive advantage is paramount. Period.”

At very least, with players and officials, there was likely a feeling of inevitability, that everything would work out in the end. Because, you know, it always did.

Panama sure didn’t feel any pull of inevitability. The Panamanians, after all, had their own cruel moment of useful failure just four years earlier, when they came so agonizingly close to pushing past those World Cup velvet ropes … only to have that late Graham Zusi goal smash the dream to smithereens.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The future is watching (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Later, in October, as Panama desperately pushed for a late goal that meant everything (a goal that Seattle’s Roman Torres eventually nailed), four years of agonizing regret was squeezing every little bit of hope and desire from the endeavor.

Likewise, every member of the current Honduras generation, the one that helped the Central American nation qualify for World Cups in 2010 and 2014, could probably tell you where they watched in misery back on Nov. 17, 2004. That night, in need of a two-goal win over Costa Rica, their older heroes managed only a draw as the World Cup dream collapsed.

It's like that everywhere, of course. Players like Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and David Beckham steered England for a generation. All were teenagers when England crashed out of qualifying for the 1994 World Cup.

Later, Gerrard talked about an infamous night at Wembley Stadium in 2007, when England needed just a draw against Croatia but fell ingloriously and missed Euro 2008. “It’s one of those memories that keeps coming back and coming back,” Gerrard would say years later.

Hopefully, the coming crop of young U.S. talent will have a recurring memory, too: how they felt the night the United States blew it for Russia ’18.

It’s a life lesson as much as a soccer lesson.

So many people have always had what they wanted in life. At very least, they had what they needed. So I always wondered, ‘Did they ever that moment?’ That moment where they wanted something so badly, but couldn’t have it? Is that the problem?

That’s the moment that can inspire the desire that pushes people into great things. That was missing from the U.S. effort. Hopefully it won’t be an issue any more. Not for another generation, at least.

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