In 1986 I was a 17 year old sports crazed teenager in New York City.
I had baseball – the New York Mets with Strawberry and Gooden. The Knicks with the unstoppable Bernard King. Plenty to be emotionally invested in. Plenty to watch on TV.
1986 was also the last time the World Cup was held without the USA sending a team. And somehow the world biggest sporting event left a massive impression on me. It wasn’t the Olympics. Everyone was playing the same game, and it was clear what it meant to the countries that had qualified.
It was also the summer when I, along with the rest of the world, got past the idea of rooting only for the home team and began to appreciate the game. There were performances by players and countries that grabbed me and hijacked my emotions.
For many of us 1986 marked the arrival of Maradona. He absolutely owned the tournament, carrying the flag for Argentina (and ultimately the entire South American continent). In the final, his team beat West Germany (at the time). I remember rooting for the diminutive but undeniable Argentine against the cold, calculating team from Europe.
I saw what it meant to the players and fans all throughout the tournament. It was magical and meaningful and I chose a side and cheered players.
And so it will be again in the summer of 2018 direct from Russia. The USA will not send a team, and sports fans and soccer fans will get to know and appreciate players we’ve never heard of, from countries that care more than we can ever know.
We all, rightfully, should take a hard look at the US Soccer Federation, coaches, players, pay for play, and the MLS to try and figure out how and why we failed to deliver for our own soccer-crazed nation.
The same conversation will happen in The Netherlands, Chile and plenty of other countries as well. Just don’t forget that the World Cup will deliver, even when Team USA couldn’t.