I can tell you exactly where I was on October 10, 2017.
It was an autumn evening in Atlanta, and the USA Men’s National Team was in a must-win scenario as it took on Trinidad and Tobago in Couva. I remember the images of an overwhelmingly flooded Ato Boldon Stadium days before the game, because of course it’s Concacaf and things like that happen.
But there I was, in a crowded Ri Ra Irish Pub (RIP) in Midtown Atlanta, at least confident that the USMNT would do its job. In short, a win would have put it in the World Cup.
That obviously didn’t happen.
One of the images that will always stick with me is the shock and fear on the faces of the fans gathered there. Granted, the United States of America, of all places, isn’t exactly Great Britain when it comes to the world’s game, but qualifying for the World Cup in a country of over 300 million is supposed to be a given, right? Especially after not missing out since 1986 and reaching a second successive round of 16 in 2014, 4 years after one of the most dramatic moments in the team’s history unfolded in South Africa to get you to your first round of 16 since ‘ 94, right?
If anything, the night brought us one of the most memorable television moments in sports history. You know the one.
Fast forward to now and the USMNT is back in the World Cup. Let’s not pretend the journey there was smooth sailing either.
Of course, there were the high moments: the 4-1 rout of Honduras, Make a Cero in Cincinnatiand beat El Salvador in a freezing cold (and snowy) Columbus, the draw at Azteca in probably the last USA-MEX qualifier in its current form, the Gold Cup final over Mexico in a scorching (I was there) Las Vegas thanks to Miles Robinson’s extended header and the heroics of both Ethan Horvath and Christian Pulisic in last year’s Concacaf Nations League final vs El Tri.
But then there were the lows: the loss to Canada (!) in Hamilton, ties that should have been wins, and the general frustration of watching a team that just seemed bereft of ideas offensively. There was Robinson, on a stratospheric rise from a standout at Syracuse University to a Best XI MLS defender and national team supporter, lying helpless on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium turf, his Achilles torn and his place in the center back pairing with Walker Zimmerman in Qatar gone in the race of a few seconds. There were the other injuries: 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 make it on the plane.
But the US did it, imperfect as it was.
Even as I write this, it’s hard to believe that Christian Pulisic, who has been in the program for what seems like forever but only just turned 24, is playing in his 1st World Cup. Four years ago, Captain America had to help face the US attack in Russia. Instead, he was forced to watch it from home, a mere spectator like you and me.
Since then, some fresh, young faces have appeared.
There is Sergiño Dest, who has just turned 22, one of the world’s up-and-coming full-backs, who trained in the famous Ajax academy but chose to represent the country his father emigrated to as a child.
There is Gio Reyna, a 20-year-old son of one of the most legendary players in US history, ready to make his own mark on the sport. He also plays with the memories of his brother, Jack, who lost his battle with cancer 10 years ago.
There is Timothy Weah, 22, the son of another footballer, who follows in his father’s footsteps and wants to his mark in the game. Not sure if he will end up being head of state like his father but we’ll see.
There is Yunus Musah, almost 20, born in New York but raised partly in England, a youth international with the Three Lions before eventually switching to play for his native country, despite picking 4, yes, 4 countries.
There is Jesús Ferreira, almost 22, born in Colombia, raised in Texas, and an export from one of the best youth academies in the country. He was in the hunt for the MLS Golden Boot for most of 2022. However, he likely won’t be in MLS much longer.
There’s Brenden Aaronson, who turned 22 last month, from about half an hour outside of Philly, who also came through the MLS youth circuit, tore it up in the league for a few years (scoring on his MLS debut against… Atlanta United) and now plays for an American coach in the Premier League. A real person from Wisconsin who grew up around the game, not a fictional one from Kansas who was once a successful college football coach.
There’s Josh Sargent, nearly 23, a red-headed Midwesterner who moved to Germany at 17 and is the father of an 11-month-old who should be in the USWNT discussion in time for the 2043 Women’s World Cup.
The names I just mentioned? It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a Reyna, a Musah, a Joe Scally (19) could be around in 2038 after the “old” guys like Jedi Robinson, Christian Pulisic and Matt Turner have hung them up. Heck, Pulisic, along with Tyler Adams, Robinson and Weston McKennie (and maybe even Sargent, Dest and Ferriera) should have enough tread on the tires in 2034 for a final run. But more eyes of USMNT fans will be directed at the 19-24-year-old core than, for example, the guys in their late 20s/early to mid-30s in the group, attracting their share of haters and critics. Will the moment prove too bright for the young? Is the hype justified? From a holistic standpoint, older players included, did Gregg Berhalter get the right roster?
As I write this, which is 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 it prepares for its opening match on Monday against Wales, a country in its 1. world cup since 1958, but has one of the best players in the sport in Gareth Bale. I suspect we will be one step closer to knowing the answer to them around 4PM ET on Monday (around midnight in Qatar) when we’re either celebrating a win/hard-fought result or commiserating after a loss with England looming. on Black Friday.
Either way, a new chapter is being written. No one knows yet what the ending will be. Let’s all hope it’s a pretty happy one.