Fans need to lower their expectations for the US Men’s National Team.
On the now infamously dubbed “Super Soccer Sunday”, US Soccer fans were treated to the literal highs and lows of their national team’s programs. Following a trademark 2-0 victory over the Netherlands by the US Women’s National Team, the US men were met with the opposite, dropping the Gold Cup final 1-0 to a higher quality Mexico team led by former Atlanta United manager, Tata Martino.
This loss comes as Gregg Berhalter wraps up his first international competitive tournament as the US Men’s National Team Coach, a position he’s held for a grand total of 218 days.
The impact of the USWNT success on the USMNT expectations
It’s no secret by now. Even with just eight total World Cups in women’s soccer, the United States Women’s National Team will go down as one of the greatest programs in the history of the sport. Following the second title in a row, the women have begun continually expressed their well-deserved desire to be compensated better, if not the same, as their male counterparts who have not only underperformed but underwhelmed many for quite some time.
The success of the women, however, has created this odd cloud of similar expectations for the men. While no one is expecting a World Cup every year, the expectations are that simply with the size of the country that victories against countries like Jamaica, Curacao, and others (the men didn’t lose leading up to the final of the Gold Cup) should be comfortable victories.
Many forget that at this point last year, we were watching as France prepared to take on a stellar Belgium team in the semi-finals of the World Cup. The frustration of not even being in the conversation still on our mind, we all watched as France would go on to win the World Cup and we would all be stuck refreshing our Twitter timelines to see what the next move for the USMNT would be, let alone who would be leading them in that move.
At some point, somewhere, though, the minds of supporters were blanked and expectations raised back to levels that don’t make sense on paper.
Where should we be?
It’s something that often gets overlooked, but the quality of victory means little to nothing in the long-term parts of soccer. For the USMNT, a 1-0 victory against Curacao may seem upsetting and shocking, but the reality is Curacao was playing extremely well and shouldn’t have shocked anyone about their performance in the Gold Cup, let alone putting USMNT up against it.
The size of a country in any competition translates to nothing in terms of the product on the field. As of this writing, the top-ranked male program is Belgium with a population of 11.35 million people. 2018 World Cup winning France? A population of 66 million. The Gold Cup winners, Mexico? 129 million people. The United States population is just over 327 million people.
The problem isn’t that these countries are bigger than other countries. The problem is so simple that drive time sports radio people are hitting the head on the nail.
The United States, indirectly, suffers from the biggest inferiority complex with the sport of soccer because, in terms of the men’s game, the country does not and likely will never hold one of the biggest leagues in the world. As such, folks expectations rise in relation to the other sports and performances of other team USA athletes without understanding that for once this country isn’t in the top position and hasn’t been for a while.
Since the creation of the FIFA World Rankings in 1993, the USMNT program hasn’t averaged higher than a 20th ranking. It’s best finish in a World Cup is a 3rd place finish in 1930 (their first World Cup mind you). Yet, the expectations are, because of the size, because of a few great players that have come and gone, that they are world beaters.
For me, it’s simple. The development of the USMNT program can’t be pulled up but pushed from the bottom up. Not even to push this entire piece into a discussion of the domestic leagues, but the realistic expectations shouldn’t be consistent 2-0’s, 3-0’s against countries smaller than the US. It should be a constant competitiveness.
The USMNT scored 15 total goals from their first match in the 2019 Gold Cup leading up to the final including stepping on a Curacao team who was tangibly punching above its weight, a Panama team that took the USMNT’s place in the 2018 World Cup, and a Jamaica team that is always competitive.
Oh yeah, they also beat Trinidad and Tobago who was the reason they didn’t qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
The expectation I have is that this is a country with a men’s program in desperate need of direction, flair, and powerful dynamics. It’s a program that doesn’t need to lean on a 20 year old who just moved from a team where he couldn’t get into consistent starting minutes to a team that just had it’s coach move to Italy and was not only replaced with someone who didn’t want him but is facing a transfer ban.
Fans need to stop putting the USMNT onto a pedestal it has no place in being on. The USMNT lacks a foundation and an identity that these other countries have and instead of expectation floor wiping performances they should be happy to see the youth coming in and leadership from veterans. Most of all, the fans need to understand the toxic landscape of the men’s program and understand that, while 2022 in Qatar is a reasonable expectation, 2026 is the goal to see this program return to the level we know it once was at.
The USMNT program can’t be one that we throw in fast forward to breeze through when in reality, it’s been stuck on rewind for longer than we will realize.
The USMNT isn’t great. But it can be. And it will again, it’s just not right now and we need to be okay with that.