In sports, some losses are worse than others. Much worse.
I’m not talking about the Washington Nationals’ heartbreaking 9-8 loss in their fifth and deciding playoff game with the Chicago Cubs.
The Nats and Cubs were evenly matched. Both teams won more than 90 games during the regular Major League Baseball (MLB) season. Both teams were loaded with star players. Even at the last at-bat, it seemed that the series could go either way.
The Nats’ loss to the Cubs was a disappointment. The failure of the United States men’s national soccer team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup was a disaster.
Unlike many pro sports in which player drafts and rules on spending money are designed to make the competition more even, the qualifying rounds for the World Cup are not even at all. Big, wealthy countries regularly are matched against smaller, poorer countries.
Look at the estimated 2017 populations of the six countries in the section the United States played in to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago
Source: CIA World Factbook
The differences in wealth among the six competing nations are even greater. By some calculations, the United States is almost 900 times (!) as wealthy as Honduras or Trinidad and Tobago. And 300 times as wealthy as Costa Rica or Panama.
Despite these enormous advantages in resources, the U.S. team finished fifth in the section, with a record of 3-4-3 (three wins, four losses and three ties) and lost a crucial, final game to last-place Trinidad and Tobago, 2-1. For the first time since 1986, the U.S. men will not play in the World Cup.
So why aren’t the American men better in soccer? The American women are terrific — they have won three World Cups and four Olympic gold medals.
First, American boys and men have choices of many sports to play. I suspect a lot of potentially talented soccer players are playing shortstop, center field, point guard or wide receiver. Don’t you think the Nats’ Trea Turner or Michael A. Taylor would be pretty good on the soccer field? Or how about LeBron James as a goalkeeper?
Still, the United States should have enough good players to beat small countries such as Honduras and Panama. The team has 19-year-old scoring phenom Christian Pulisic, but it hasn’t produced many other creative playmakers.
The Nats will be back next season. My guess is they will make the playoffs and have another chance for the World Series.
The World Cup is played only every four years. The U.S. men will not have a chance to appear on soccer’s biggest stage until 2022. That’s a big loss.