EDGAR ZUNIGA - Monday, July 9, 2012
Ask any US Soccer fan if they think the men will win a World Cup in their lifetime and they will usually respond with a 40-yard stare in deep thought before a sheepish grin and, 'I hope so.'
In their recent Debate Issue, ESPN The Magazine had Stefan Szymanski, co-author of Soccernomics, answer the question, marking 2042 as the year the Red, White and Blue will shock the world.
Although that is actually only 30 years away, it is nearly halfway through the 21st century, when we will finally have cities on the Moon and colonies on Mars. Who knows? Maybe the Moon might even field a squad for the World Cup qualifiers.
That reminds me of when I was an idealist kid growing up in the '80s, raised on "Robotech" and "Transformers" and daydreaming of the distant year 2000 like it was some magical era when we would have flying cars and field trips to the Moon would be a common thing.
Of course, when the 2000s actually came around, the best we could do were aging, ill-fated space shuttles.
And forget the flying cars. For a while, just flying in airplanes became a frightening experience.
Although the advent of the Internet brought the world closer together (for some, too close for comfort) and we have gorged on amazing technological advances for our entertainment, we are nowhere near the space-age civilization envisioned by futurists and hopefuls throughout the mid-1900s.
In the case of US Soccer, the rise of talent and interest during the '90s and 2000s has many people entertaining dreams and hopes of World Cup glory in some not-so-distant future.
Szymanski backs up his claim with statistics that track the annual winning percentage of the US team and compares it to that of past World Cup winners entering the tournament. According to him, eventually, the US will rise to this magical percentage and be crowned World Champions.
If the national team maintains its current rate of growth, the stats paint a pretty picture for the future.
However, what Szymanski overlooked is that the competition within CONCACAF, when compared to that found in Europe and South America, is nowhere near at the same level-now or ever.
Mexico might be able to put up a fight against heavyweights from these other regions, and the US will steal a victory here and there, but what about the rest of the region?
What...is CONCACAF going to suddenly grow into some superpower where Nicaragua will battle with Surinam, Mexico and the US for spots in the World Cup? Is the CONCACAF Champions League going to eventually make everyone forget about that lackluster Euro sham?
Real Madrid vs. Juventus?
Bah! Give me Chivas USA vs. Defence Force!
Pfft! World Champions are made in the Gold Cup!
While I do allow myself to indulge a bit in Szymanski's optimism and would love to see his prediction become a reality, for the US to eventually reach the status of perennial World Cup contender, our region would have to undergo a similarly impressive growth spurt.
Unfortunately, the CONCACAF Champions League is but a small blip on the global radar, while the Gold Cup remains The US and Mexico Show (with that cameo from Canada in 2000).
To their credit, Mexico has enjoyed an impressive resurgence the last few years but the US seems to be stuck in neutral and it remains that we were closer to winning a World Cup in 1930 than we are now.
After Mexico and the US, you have shaky Honduras (still celebrating that they even showed up to the World Cup) and conflicted Costa Rica, who cringe at any mention of Jonathan Bornstein.
Our neighbors from the north are no closer to winning a FIFA World Cup than Brazil is to winning an Ice Hockey World Championship.
Then, there is the rest of the region, which is in constant flux and lacks any stability.
Astonishingly, however, it never fails that the US has a difficult time during qualification.
Not on paper, nor on the field, does beating Antigua and Barbuda 3-1 at home look impressive. That was a team composed almost entirely of members of Antigua Barracuda FC, which currently plays in the USL Professional Division-the third tier of err...American (?) soccer.
While Mexico had a similar result at home against Guyana, they made it clear, before, during and after, that they were on cruise control for that game.
The US rarely enjoys such a luxury and there is no way that Jurgen Klinsmann would allow the team to enter a World Cup qualifier in such a relaxed fashion. Everyone expected more of the US and rightfully so.
For the US, however, this is the nature of things in CONCACAF, especially on the road, which has historically been treated as a drive through a bad neighborhood in Detroit in the middle of the night. Roll up the windows and pray that you avoid all the red lights.
Despite any advantages in skill and athleticism the US might possess, any road trip south of the border is more of a struggle than it should be, as exemplified by that agonizing game in Guatemala, where the US was lucky to escape with a draw.
There is something to be said about home field advantage in CONCACAF and how US players react when playing on foreign soil.
They go from their comfortable homes and lives in First World nations to playing in balmy, loud stadiums located practically in jungles, but you would swear they just got airdropped into a savage wilderness with only a dull butter knife to protect themselves.
The rest of CONCACAF knows this and fans do everything possible to feed that anxiety.
If the US is to conquer the world, they must begin by vanquishing their own demons.
Until the US can go down to Costa Rica and win with attitude, take care of business in El Salvador, build upon their success in Honduras, avoid pitfalls in Panama and provide Mexico with a serious threat in Azteca, there is no way the US can take the next step in the evolution of a World Cup contender, when they can stare down traditional world powers.
Who knows? Maybe they will finally beat Ghana.
Without question, the United States possesses the infrastructure, population and resources to build a soccer superpower in decades to come-maybe sooner than later. But - where is my flying car? I would have loved to vacation on the Moon this summer.
Alas, those hopes and dreams of previous generations turned out to be scribbled on the shores of the cosmic ocean and eroded by waves of human conflict.
A World Cup in 2042 sure would be nice, but for the US to rise to the summit, CONCACAF will have to rise as well. But is that really going to happen?
I hope so.