Epic failure of men's national team overshadows the year in U.S. soccer

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The United States men’s national soccer team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup was by far the biggest story of the year in American soccer.

When compiling a list of the biggest moments in U.S. soccer this year, the failure of the men’s national team to qualify for the 2018 World Cup belongs not only at the top, but in the next 99 slots.

Nothing else that transpired over these 12 months comes remotely close to the disastrous result in Trinidad and Tobago. You could isolate individual moments in that match (or in the home defeat to Costa Rica or other shortfalls) and justify cataloguing them here.

However, for practical purposes – and for American soccer’s sanity – we need to embrace more than the epic failure. So here goes . . .

1. All they needed was one crummy point against the undermanned worst team in the CONCACAF’s final round of World Cup qualifying. Just a draw, and the Americans would’ve been booking a ticket to the sport’s biggest competition for the eighth consecutive time. Instead, well, you saw that uninspiring, defective, calamitous, coaching-flawed, rock-bottom of a performance that left them praying for a favorable result in the other group matches. Although issues surfaced throughout the qualifying campaign, everyone involved figured the team could get by, then re-calibrate before Russia. They were wrong, and the ramifications will be felt for years.

2. Speaking of ramifications, the qualifying failure accelerated the demand for change atop the U.S. Soccer Federation. Sunil Gulati, who has overseen U.S. soccer for 12 years without an election opponent, refused to resign after the Caribbean fiasco. Two months later, though, he announced he would not seek reelection. Eight candidates are vying for the position Feb. 10, including former national team players Eric Wynalda, Hope Solo, Kyle Martino and Paul Caligiuri.

3. The year wasn’t all bad for the men’s national team: With several secondary players in key roles, the Americans won the CONCACAF Gold Cup for the sixth time by defeating Jamaica, 2-1, on Jordan Morris’s goal in the 88th minute in Santa Clara, California. With archrival Mexico faltering in the semifinals, the Americans enjoyed a brief period of schadenfreude.

4. Amid the despair, there is hope in the form of two 19-year-olds in the Bundesliga. Pennsylvania’s Christian Pulisic is a starter at Borussia Dortmund, the subject of transfer rumors to massive clubs in Europe and the USSF’s youngest male player of the year. Weston McKennie is a regular with Schalke and will begin integrating into the national team in 2018. Other teenage prospects: Monterrey’s Jonathan Gonzalez and Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent.

5. Toronto FC became the first MLS club to raise three trophies in one year: MLS Cup, Supporters’ Shield and Canadian Championship. Okay, it’s not a U.S. team, but it does play in a U.S.-based league with prominent U.S. players, such as Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore. TFC was best from start to finish and will now set sights on the CONCACAF Champions League and a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup.

6. The U.S. Open Cup is terribly underappreciated, and the 2017 tournament gave wonderful reasons to embrace it: Christos FC, an adult amateur team from greater Baltimore that’s headquartered at a discount liquor store, advanced to the fourth round and, before thousands of supporters, led D.C. United before running out of gas. Meantime, second-tier FC Cincinnati made the semifinals and second-flight Miami FC went to the quarters.

7. The Portland Thorns have set the popularity standard in women’s pro sports, averaging 17,653 this season, easily dwarfing all NWSL competitors and WNBA teams. Besides celebrating another attendance record, they celebrated their second championship after defeating the North Carolina Courage in the final.

8. The Columbus Crew is one of MLS’s founding members, the first to unveil a soccer-specific stadium and winner of five notable trophies. However, claiming he can’t make the business work in central Ohio, Anthony Precourt turned from owner to villain by announcing he planned to move the team to Austin, touching off protests in Columbus and beyond with the ubiquitous #SaveTheCrew.

9. Anyone questioning Atlanta’s appetite for MLS was put to shame after the expansion side broke Seattle’s eight-year hold on the attendance title by averaging 48,000 in a season split between Georgia Tech and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Gerardo Martino’s stylish, entertaining team gave reason to watch.

10. Mallory Pugh, a rising star on the U.S. women’s national team, became the first player to skip NCAA soccer altogether to play in the NWSL, landing with the Washington Spirit. Men have taken that path for years; with Pugh’s breakthrough, other elite women are sure to follow.

Honorable mentions:

Stanford becomes first Division I school to win NCAA men’s and women’s titles in same year.

U.S. men advance to U-20 World Cup quarterfinals.

Nashville is awarded MLS expansion team.

Soccer community mourns death of Hall of Fame women’s coach Tony DiCicco.

NASL sues USSF to retain Division 2 status.

U.S. women strike collective bargaining agreement with USSF through 2021.

Sky Blue FC’s Sam Kerr scores NWSL-record 17 goals.

Diego Valeri wins MLS MVP honors with 21 goals and 11 assists.

U.S. women fall short in SheBelieves Cup and Tournament of Nations.

Utah Royals replace FC Kansas City in NWSL.

D.C. United plays last game at RFK Stadium (we think).