On Friday, Oct. 6, anyone that thinks they are even 50 percent American Outlaw went to bed dreaming of vodka drinking bears dancing in furry hats. The U.S. was headed to the World Cup after dismantling Panama 4-0.
But after last Tuesday night, it became just that, a dream.
A humiliating 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago, coupled with victories for Honduras against Mexico and a phantom goal propelling Panama against Costa Rica, the U.S. was out.
That leaves just two questions: what happened? And where do we go from here?
For the first, the answer is simple. The Americans, simply put, were not good enough for most of the time.
The pair of losses to open the final Hexagonal round dug the U.S. into a hole that proved too deep to climb out of. The ensuing change in managers was a hit on the reset button.
Under Bruce Arena, the results started to flow in, but there is a difference between an unbeaten run and a winning streak. Arena opened his second tenure with the national team with a 14-game unbeaten run, including four in the Hex.
Of those four games in qualifying, the two on the road ended in draws. There four points were dropped, but not the end of the world.
But, add that to the six dropped at home to losses against Mexico (under Jurgen Klinsmann) and Costa Rica (under Arena) made it important to gain extra points on the road. But the U.S. failed to win one road game, and in reality, were lucky to get what they got.
Striker Bobby Wood had to rescue a point against Honduras last month, and any point in Mexico is good.
But with nothing at Costa Rica, and more importantly T&T, added with everything else, doomed the U.S.
In the final game, the Americans came out flatter than a pancake. Any momentum that was created after the Panama win was gone.
It is worth noting the terrible field conditions for the match. It would have been appropriate for the U.S. to take in a spot of paddleboard yoga in the lead up to the game. While the moat that surrounded the field was gone by kickoff, it was still a sloppy, bumpy surface to play on.
But at some point, everyone plays in terrible conditions. There is a well-known saying among Premier League fans, “Even the best teams have to do it on a cold, wet night at Stoke.” Given, Trinidad features more hot conditions than a January night in Stoke.
Which leads to player selection. If only there was a player that has dealt with wet and wild nights at Stoke City. Surely, Stoke City defender Geoff Cameron would get the nod at center back.
Instead, Arena had deemed the Stoke City man unfit, sighting a hamstring injury that Cameron picked up in the Potters’ 2-2 draw against Manchester United last month. But Cameron had played a full 90 minutes against Southampton before the break.
That led Arena to name an unchanged starting 11, which would have worked had the energy been there.
It wasn’t. That forced Arena to go to the bench, and Clint Dempsey, early in the second.
It almost worked, as Christian Pulisic scored yet another goal for the Americans. but ultimately came up short. Now, the Americans will be forced to watch the World Cup at home.
So now what?
Despite both Arena and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati saying no sweeping changes are incoming, there will be.
With no two thoughts about it, Arena was never anything more than a caretaker manger. He had one job, and didn’t take care of business. His resignation Friday was expected, a show that at least some changes will take place.
The question is now who will get the job next? Tab Ramos is the popular name coming through the media now. Currently, Ramos is the U-20 coach for the U.S., and that would be the logical choice.
Other options include Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes, but a chorus of fans would rather not have an MLS manager get the position.
Perhaps the manager to silence that chorus would be Tata Martino. A former manager of Barcelona and Argentina, he has taken Atlanta United near the top of MLS in its inaugural season. His CV is quite good and could be what U.S. Soccer needs right now.
One thing that could entice any manager to fill the role is the fact the U.S. is out of the World Cup. Now, any manager has five years to implement their philosophy on the team before the next World Cup. That is plenty of time to get a new system in place.
As for Gulati, he will be around for a little bit longer. The president of U.S. Soccer is an elected position, with an upcoming election this February.
However, Gulati himself has not committed to running yet. If he does, he will at least have competition, unlike the last two elections.
A sad thing is that a generation of U.S. players is now done. It is hard to believe that Dempsey, Tim Howard, DeMarcus Beasley and others will be in the fold for the next cycle.
Which means short term, several fringe players will get a shot. Benny Feilhaber made his first appearance since 2014 in the second half against T&T to try to provide a spark. Expect forwards like Dom Dwyer and Christian Ramirez to come into the fold.
Long term, it is time for the next generation to develop on the senior teams.
Despite not qualifying for the Olympics in the last two attempts, there is a talented group of youngsters that can break out in the next five years.
Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers are two defenders with homes in the Premier League. Both are currently on loan, Miazga in the Netherland with Vitesse, Carter-Vickers with the English Championship Sheffield United.
Should the pair continue to improve, they could make the next center back pairing for the national team.
Ethan Horvath will likely gain some caps in net, as the current guard of Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Nick Rimando get phased out.
Paul Arriola and Jordan Morris have already made an impact on the senior team, and both will be in play moving forward. One can also hold out hope that Julian Green can regain his 2014 form and join the side.
And don’t forget, Pulisic is just 19.
But there is the situation of this summer. Failure to qualify will mean fewer causal viewers will watch the World Cup, limiting the exposure soccer gets in the U.S. In theory, this could impact the number of children who will join the game, but that is pure conjecture at this point.
For the avid soccer fan, Americans are now fans without a country, which is not a good thing. For a pop culture reference, it is like being a Morty without a Rick.
Naturally, they will adopt a country to cheer for. While it won’t be full-fledged support, it represents an opportunity for different countries to gain a connection with Americans. The Americans will still watch the tournament, but they just won’t be cheering for their home team.
For the pure American soccer fan, just remember: 599 days until the 2019 Women’s World Cup kicks off in France.