For the first time since 1986 (two years before I was born), the United States Men’s National Soccer Team will not be headed to the World Cup.
A 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday night ended what was a miserable qualifying period. The U.S. was in with a win, and they couldn’t do it. Even a loss elsewhere could’ve qualified them. Those didn’t happen either.
As a U.S. soccer fan under 35 or so, I never even considered the possibility, even as the team’s back appeared against the wall several times in the latter stages of qualifying.
I, like so many others, felt entitled to a World Cup berth purely by way of talent and resources.
I’ve obviously learned nothing as a sports fan these last 29 and a half years.
As a Syracuse Orange fan, I’m clearly no stranger to misery. Same goes for nearly every other team I call my own: Knicks, Mets, Rangers, Red Bulls. The New York Giants are a rare exception, and still, either they win the Super Bowl or miss the playoffs. I started rooting for Chelsea in the Premier League over a decade ago because I wanted a respite from the devastation that is my sports fandom (and still, it’s not the same).
Despite ALL of that, I still convince myself every Saturday, Sunday, Monday -- random Tuesday night! -- that it can’t happen to my team.
The internal narratives have happened time and time again for me. “We deserve this. I deserve this. I’ve suffered enough. We’re too good for this loss.”
Being a sports fan entitles you to nothing. That was the case for over a century before today, and it’ll be true a century from now (unless no leagues exist anymore, which... maybe).
This is the part where you’re saying “make with the Syracuse stuff already,” and I agree, I should probably get around to that.
Around here, we try to detach ourselves from as many of the rote, “dumb” fan behaviors, and the worst of our own fan base (which itself shares characteristics with the dregs of most others). But at times, we can be plenty guilty of the things we normally repel. A tough loss, a bad penalty, a rough season or two. It happens, and the next reaction usually revolves around what we’re owed as fans. Whether it’s the team, the program, the school, the coach, the players... someone owes us a positive outcome.
The reactions like this are far more frequent outside of these walls. But again, that doesn’t mean we aren’t part of it. Anytime we bring up attendance, it’s one of the first things that arrives in the comments.
“We’ve waited long enough. We deserve a winning team before we start showing up again.”
I’m not here to bring that argument back up. More, I’m just acknowledging that the argument — that we deserve something as fans — is fundamentally flawed. When we became fans (of any team we root for), we never signed a contract for services rendered for support tendered. It’s a one-sided arrangement, no matter how much time, emotion or money we toss in.
You’re not a bad sports fan for expecting the team to give you something in return. It’s a natural human reaction, but it’s a flawed one given the arrangement.
Nearly every year, we tell ourselves the Syracuse Orange are a program that should be contending for a Final Four. But how often do they get there? We tell ourselves SU should be a bowl team each year, but how often have they made it there lately?
No matter how many games Jim Boeheim wins or how much Dino Babers turns the football program around, Syracuse doesn’t owe us anything. We’re not entitled to Final Fours, bowl games, or even wins, really. Still, the promise of them is why we’re here and continue to be.
But dammit, if I still don’t think U.S. Soccer should be in the World Cup every four years...