Former U.S. defender Alexi Lalas believes the men's national team will use its failure to qualify for the World Cup to come back stronger.
The U.S. has failed to secure a place at the showpiece event for the first time since 1986, dropping a 2-1 result to Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday that allowed Panama to secure CONCACAF's final automatic slot while Honduras moved into an intercontinental playoff with Australia.
As U.S. fans grapple with a five-year wait until potentially playing in another World Cup — and a gap of nearly two years before the team's next competitive match at the 2019 Gold Cup — Lalas made the argument on FS1 on Sunday that supporters must be patient.
"Everyone is looking for answers," said Lalas, who earned 96 caps for the U.S. from 1991 to 1998. "Everyone wants to lay blame — 'heads should roll, things should change, fix it and fix it quickly.' But you know what? There is no quick fix, there is no magic bullet and no one person has all of the answers.
"The system we built is unique, it is complex and it is imperfect — just like our nation — but it is better than anything that we have had before. Despite what some people tell you, we don't need to tear it down and start over."
The Americans' failure to secure a spot in Russia has steered renewed scrutiny toward the "pay-to-play" model that many believe hinders youth development stateside, and Lalas put forth his own suggestion to potentially solve the issue.
"Maybe we should require that any MLS club or any pro club in the United States have a free academy, from the first division on down," Lalas said. "But you know what? This idea, like all of the others I've heard this week, it takes time. That's not what anyone wants to hear, but it's the truth.
"And we will get better, and we will use this failure to come back stronger. Because you know what? The U.S. soccer community, despite all of our differences, our agendas and our insecurities, has come together again and again and affected positive change. I just hope it's change that values and builds on the past while demanding a better future."