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15 Jul 2018

World Cup 2018: An American's take on things

World Cup 2018: An American's take on things

As expected, the World Cup went on successfully without the United States, who can learn much from missing out.

REUTERS/LEE SMITH

The World Cup has come and gone. It was entertaining, even riveting, and don't think I even thought about the United States not being part of the fun.

As an American, albeit one with more professional experience for the other football known as the NFL but has grown to appreciate the world's game, it was more enjoyable watching 32 teams that deserved to be in Russia rather than fretting about a nation that truly wasn't worthy. For the U.S. and world football, I'm more of a realist than a dreamer.

At least in my part of the U.S., pundits and media types seem to feel the same with little mention of the American's failure to qualify once the matches began. There was too much other good stuff going on.

England's run to the semifinals, Croatia's surge to the finals and France's youth and unselfish talent all provided great theatre. Penalties, VAR, Ronaldo's always perfect hair, potential mutinies and the massive amount of dedicated Peruvian fans also made for fine subplots.

For me, this World Cup had everything I needed to be entertained but also, as an American who wants his nation to do well and understands the national team's current predicament, found some hope, in the form of others, for the future of the red, white, and blue to emulate. 

The younger the better

I must admit, England's semi-final watch party in Hyde Park was impressive, showing better than the crowd for a headlining set at Lollapalooza. Though not sure I would have parted with my beer so hastily as the masses did after Kieran Trippier's nifty free kick against Croatia in the semi-final.

Even more impressive was watching England 20-somethings like Harry Kane, John Stones, Harry Maguire, Jordan Pickford and Trippier play such pivotal roles in the Three Lions' success in Russia.

Reuters/MICHAEL DALDER

Watching the unselfishness of France, with guys like Paul Pogba, buying into a cause and putting the team before the name was refreshing to see.

And Croatia. I am not sure any squad showed more passion or displayed the level of endurance needed to make a run of that magnitude.

Granted, the U.S. does not have near the established talent, aside from star Christian Pulisic, as any of those sides, or several others in this year's field, but they have some intriguing youth beyond the soon-to-be 20-year-old midfielder. 

Think back to right before the World Cup started, the U.S. and France met in a friendly. The oldest player on the American side picked for that match was 29, and goal-scorer Julian Green turned 23 three days earlier.

Facing a French team starting most of their regulars, the U.S. managed a 1-1 draw. Yes, it was a friendly, but it was the first time in a long time the USMNT had reason to feel good about themselves. 

The world knows about Pulisic, but if other American youth, like Green and perhaps 20-year-old Cameron Carter-Vickers, can be developed properly as the overall culture within the program undergoes a facelift, then better days should be ahead for the U.S.

And one day, potentially not too long from now, that youthful talent can thrive on the grandest stage of world football. Is 2022 too soon? 

All part of the process

Those fans of Major League Baseball know tearing down and rebuilding a franchise has become fashionable in today's game. The Houston Astros and even the Chicago Cubs are the two best examples of that.

The USMNT's current state might not be one of a gutting, but fans of any sport in the U.S. seem willing to get behind a team of youngsters instead of players past their prime. As long as that powers-that-be are honest about the process.

Reuters/Kim Klement

Meanwhile, we should appreciate what we saw in Russia over the last month. 

I know I did and probably more than in past World Cups when American football fans had to hear about all the shortcomings of their squad. Let's save that for Qatar, assuming things get better for the U.S. and the embarrassment of missing out this year was enough of a wake-up call to make sure it never happens again.

In the meantime, the memories of Lionel Messi's penalty miss against Iceland, Kane's late goal versus Tunisia, Russia's Cinderella run and Croatia's heart should be enough to tide me over for another four years.

Just don't expect me to toss my beer in the air at a 2022 watch party.

Has this been the best World Cup in recent memory? Let us know in the comments below.