I can tell you exactly where I was on October 10, 2017.
It was an autumn evening in Atlanta, and the United States men’s national team needed to win as they battled Trinidad and Tobago in Cuba. I remember images of the Ato Boldon stadium being massively flooded a few days before the game because of course it’s Concacaf and I guess that happens.
But I was in a packed Ri Ra’s Irish Pub (RIP) in Midtown Atlanta, at least confident that the USMNT would do their job. Simply put, a win would have qualified for the World Cup.
Apparently that didn’t happen.
I think one of the images that will always stay with me is the shock and anguish on the faces of the fans there. Granted, the United States isn’t exactly the UK when it comes to the World Games, but qualifying for the World Cup in a country of over 300 million people is kind of a given, right? Especially after not missing it since 1986 and reaching the last 16 in a row for the second time in 2014, 4 years after one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the team, which was played in South Africa to reach the first round. 16 since 94, right?
If anything, the night brought us one of the most memorable television moments in sports history. You know one.
Fast forward to now and the USMNT is back in the World Cup. Let’s not pretend it was a smooth ride there either.
Of course, there were the best moments: the 4-1 match in Honduras, Dos a Cero in the city of Cincinnatibeating El Salvador in freezing cold (and snowy) Columbus, draw Azteca possibly the last USA-MEX qualifier in its current form, the Gold Cup final over Mexico in an absolutely scorching (I was there) Las Vegas thanks to Miles Robinson’s extra-time header and heroics from Ethan Horvath and Christian Pulisic. in last year’s Concacaf Nations League final vs El Tri.
But then there were the low points: the loss to Canada (!) in Hamilton, the draws that should have been wins, and the general frustration of watching a team that just seemed out of ideas offensively. Robinson’s stratospheric rise from Syracuse University standout to best XI MLS defender and national team mainstay lay helpless on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf, his Achilles torn and his place at center back paired with Walker Zimmerman. Katara was gone in a few brutal seconds. There were other injuries, too: not nearly as serious as Robinson’s, but ones that made you wonder if they could at least stay healthy long enough to at least get on the plane.
But the US did, however imperfectly.
Even as I write this, it’s hard to believe that Christian Pulisic, who has been around the program for a long time but only just turned 24, is playing in his first World Cup. Four years ago, Captain America had to help the US attack Russia. Instead, he was forced to watch it from home, just a spectator like you and me.
Since then, some fresh new faces have appeared.
There is Sergiño Dest, who has just turned 22, one of the world’s up-and-coming defenders, who trained at the famous Ajax academy but chose to represent the country his father emigrated to as a child.
There’s Joe Reina, the 20-year-old son of one of the most legendary players in United States history, ready to make his mark on the sport. He also plays with memories of his brother Jack, who lost his battle with cancer 10 years ago.
Here’s Timothy Wee, 22, the son of another football great, following in his father’s footsteps and wanting to her mark in the game. Not sure if he will eventually become a head of state like his father but we will see.
There’s Yunus Musah, for almost 20 years, born in New York but partly raised in England, a youth international with the Three Lions before finally switching to the country of his birth, despite having 4, yes, 4 countries.
There’s Jesus Ferreira, almost 22, born in Colombia, raised in Texas and exported from one of the best youth academies in the country. He spent most of 2022 chasing the MLS Golden Boot. However, he may not be in MLS anymore.
There’s Branden Aaronson, who turned 22 last month, from about half an hour outside of Philly, who also made the MLS youth circuit, tore the league around for a couple of years (scoring in his MLS debut against…Atlanta United) and is now playing for an American coach in the Premier League. A real-life native from Wisconsin who grew up playing, not a fictional one from Kansas, who was previously a successful college football coach.
There’s Josh Sargent (almost 23), a redheaded Midwesterner who moved to Germany at 17 and is the father of an 11-month-old who should be in the USWNT’s discussion for the 2043 Women’s World. Cup.
The words I just mentioned? It’s not out of the question that 2038 could feature Reina, Musah, Joe Scully (19), after the ‘old’ guys like Jeddy Robinson, Christian Pulisic and Matt Turner have unseated them. Heck, Pulisic, along with Tyler Adams, Robinson and Weston McKenney (and maybe even Sargent, Dest and Ferrier) should have enough tire tread in 2034 to make the final lap. But more USMNT fans will be looking at that 19-24 year old core than, say, the late 20s/30s. early to mid 2000s guys in a band that attracts its share of haters and critics. Will the moment prove too bright for the young? Is the hype justified? From the perspective of the entire team, including the older players, did Greg Berhalter make the right choice?
As I write this article, in the early morning hours of November 20, 2022, there are still many questions to be answered about the US men’s national team as they prepare for their opening game against Wales on Monday. the country in its first World Cup since 1958, but it features one of the sport’s greatest players, Gareth Bale. I think we’ll be one step closer to finding out the answer to them on Monday around 4pm ET (around midnight in Qatar) when we either celebrate a win/hard fought result or commiserate after losing to England. on black friday.
In any case, a new chapter will be written. No one is sure yet what the ending will be. Let’s hope together that it will be quite happy.