I have no words.
It’s 9:56 pm EST. The USMNT has just lost. They are eliminated from the World Cup. My dad emailed me, “This sucks.” He’s right. I’m not sure there’s anything to say other than that. If you close this article right now, I will not blame you.
I will not provide analysis of the game. I have thoughts on where the US went wrong over the last four years – or 10 years, or perhaps 20 years – but I will save them for another day.
For last 20 minutes of the game, my heart was pounding out of my chest. When I saw on Twitter that Panama had scored the go-ahead goal, my body went into a state I’ve never experienced.
No crowded stadium or speech or conversation has ever made my body feel the way the final whistle of this US game left me. I just put my head in my hands, unable to grasp the impossible nature of the very real reality.
The pain is the spark
I expect everyone else felt something similar. I expect millions of people around the country felt similar pain and sadness. I got mad for a moment that anyone – Bruce Arena, the players, Jurgen Klinsmann, Sunil Gulati – could let this happen. Then, as I sat still unmoved from the same spot, something else occurred me.
I have no words but, strangely, I have a hope.
This is how it starts. This is the spark. This is the pain and emptiness and devastation that spurs action.
A lot of people will write articles denoting blame for how this happened. Writers and tweeters and former pros will say what the American soccer system needs to do differently. Some will be right, some will be wrong. And it matters, of course. How we scout players, how we develop talent, how we groom pros, it all matters. But here’s the thing, and it’s the reason that I think actually makes us all love this god-forsaken sport in the first place.
Nothing matters nearly as much as your personal relationship with soccer and/or a soccer ball.
Soccer can happen anywhere. Soccer does anywhere. And in that, we all have agency to create change from anywhere.
Great players aren’t developed in strict regimes; great coaches aren’t cultured in methodical courses; passionate fans aren’t built in a lab.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the big scheme of things, that we forget what we are all here for in the first place.
Now it falls on us
Don’t get deterred. Don’t get scared away or disenchanted or jaded. Think about how good it feels to care about something; remember how good it feels to be alive. If we brought this much energy to everything we did, the world would be a better place. We got burnt this time, but soccer isn’t going away forever.
We aren't dependent on the US Soccer Federation to change the development system. We don’t need MLS to implement new rules. We need a goddamn soccer ball and a patch of grass.
Get your kids right now and go kick a ball. Go get your friends and meet at a bar and talk soccer. Your kid can be the American star that makes sure this never happens to us again; you can be the coach that develops the next American star.
Every ticket you buy to a local college game or NPSL game or USL game matters. Every comment you write on an article matters. Everything you yell in a stadium matters. Coaches and players will tell you that they don’t listen to fans; they are lying. It all seeps into the ecosystem.
We all have the ability to get smarter and be better and have a real tangible impact. I, for one, will spend a long time figuring out how I felt so comfortable that the US would qualify.
I’m being sappy right now, I realize that. But I refuse to be sad. There’s way worse stuff happening in the world. Being sad about soccer won’t get us anywhere. And I totally refuse to assess blame right now. True change takes a calculated, systematic effort, separate from the heat of the present emotion.
Now we really know what’s on the line. Our players, our fans, our media, now get what we are all doing this for. It’s holding your head in your hands, unable to move.
The best players move on from the last play as soon as it ends; they start thinking about the next play. What’s next for us? American soccer needs us, everyone, more than ever.
Too often in life we only realize how much we care about something when it’s gone. This World Cup is beyond, yes, but not the sport; not our future, not our passion. We have a rare moment to feel our hearts get broken, but get up and fight again.