Qualifying for the World Cup presents a quadrennial test with only two answers. It is binary in nature and ruthless in composition: in or out.
For the past three decades, U.S. Soccer checked off the first box. The particulars always varied. Some journeys veered off course. Other paths emerged with relative ease or tournament hosting duties. All of those routes ended up in that same, precious place among the world’s very best.
This perch at the top table created a healthy dose of expectation and an unnerving sense of complacency. Even in the constant and often desperate race to compare what takes place here with what unfolds elsewhere, this belief — the U.S. men’s national team is destined to play in the World Cup — never wavered.
It is well and truly gone now. Thirty-two national teams are destined for Russia next summer. The United States isn’t one of them.
This reality — confirmed by that frantic final day of the Hexagonal, including the galling 2-1 defeat in Trinidad and Tobago last month and the victories by Panama and Honduras — hit home with a thud and raised a fury unlike anything seen in the modern era.
All of the anger and rancor generated a necessary dialogue about the past, the present and the future. Some of it is useful. Some of it is not. But the two most pressing concerns — the present and the future — require further examination.