By Ryan Rosenblatt / VOAO
The USMNT hasn’t given us much to be happy about. There’s no real way of dancing around it. Ever since that fateful night in Trinidad and Tobago, they wasted more than a year without a coach or direction because of political and administrative dysfunction, then after a bright start to the Gregg Berhalter Era, gave us two friendlies that, if we’re being kind, were abysmal.
That is where the Americans stand as they head into the Gold Cup, where they will play their first competitive matches in 21 months. It’s … not great.
But we’ve been low before, and it’s worth looking back at history for the high points that followed.
The 2014 World Cup that gave us John Brooks’ winner, Jermaine Jones’ screamer and the nomination of Tim Howard to Secretary of Defense almost wasn’t. There was the famous Brian Straus piece that cast doubt upon Jurgen Klinsmann’s entire program after an embarrassing loss in Honduras. And prior to that, a loss in Jamaica that put the U.S. in danger of missing the final round of qualifying altogether.
After that loss in Jamaica, though, the Americans went to a pack Crew Stadium, where Herculez Gomez came to the rescue. And the chaos that followed the loss in Honduras an ensuing reporting drama just les the U.S. to Colorado for the SnowClasico, a day that was etched into history as the Americans went onto Brazil for a memorable World Cup.
The historic 2002 World Cup was also hardly assured. We remember it for Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley’s breakouts, the beautiful passes from John O’Brien and Claudio Reyna, Tony Sanneh’s marauding runs and Brad Friedel’s penalty heroics, as well as the most famous Dos a Cero ever, but before the U.S. was in the quarterfinals of the World Cup, they almost didn’t qualify for the Hex.
Going into the penultimate matchday of the second round of qualifying, the U.S. was third in their group. And even prior to their final match, they needed a win to make the Hex. It was a near disaster for Bruce Arena and Co. and it came on the heels of a dead last finish in the 1998 World Cup, with MLS nearing collapse.
Arguably no time in modern U.S. men’s soccer history was as dire. And yet, not even two years later, the Americans were in the World Cup quarterfinals, with a group of generational young talent and the brightest future the country has ever had.
Things have been bad for the U.S. before, and it was not that long ago. It wasn’t miss the World Cup bad, but, it also came at a time when the sport was in a much more precarious position in this country, and when there wasn’t a recent history of success to give remind us of what was possible.
It was a dark time, but when the U.S. came out of it – when Brian McBride stunned Portugal, Donovan put the sword to Mexico, Brooks couldn’t believe what he had just done – it was all that much sweeter because of where they had come from. Those worries, those fears, that sense of impending doom, fueled that ecstasy for those who had been there through it all.
So will Gregg Berhalter and Co. get back on top of Concacaf at this summer’s Gold Cup? Don’t believe anyone who guarantees you that they will. Maybe the Nations League is still too soon for the Americans’ ascent. I can’t tell you when the U.S. will have their moment and sending us running through the streets again. But whenever they do, I can tell you that it will mean that much more if you were there when things were at the lowest, and you were there for every step forward, small and large.
The U.S. won’t jump back on top all at once. It’s going to take time. It takes a movement. Be there for it all.