USMNT still in recovery as we reach anniversary of worst day in American soccer history

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The U.S. national team's failure to qualify for the World Cup was a dark day in American soccer, and the program has yet to truly emerge from it

If the anniversary of the U.S. national team's failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup feels like it came around incredibly quickly to U.S. fans, it is probably because many of those same fans have spent at least some part of the past year in lingering shock at a moment that has to be considered the worst in American soccer history.

The memories of that night are seared into the brains of the American soccer community. The Omar Gonzalez own goal. The Alvin Jones wonder goal. Clint Dempsey's potential equalizer hitting the post. The Concacaf scores falling into line like a torturous set of dominoes. The final whistle that sparked tears and disbelief. The image of Christian Pulisic breaking down. The empty feeling of helplessness that enveloped an entire fanbase, much of which had never had to deal with the pain of failing to qualify for a World Cup.

A year has gone by and the wound is still fresh. That's why you still find American fans who feel compelled to boo when Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore take the field, this despite the years of service both have put in with the national team. It's also why crowds for USMNT home matches have been sparse at best. It is why the level of excitement surrounding an extremely promising generation of young talent isn't higher.

The fateful night in the Caribbean which saw the USMNT lose a match nobody expected to be lost also doesn't feel that long ago because the program has spent much of the past year in limbo, waiting for the appointment of a new head coach to to help chart the new direction of the program.

You can argue that a federation that has sworn in a new president for the first time in decades and that won the rights to host the 2026 World Cup isn't exactly in limbo, but that is still the feeling lingering around the USMNT. The ridiculously long delay in choosing a new head coach has only served to boost skepticism in U.S. Soccer, even after Sunil Gulati's departure, and it has also served to make it that much more difficult for whatever coach is hired to live up to having been worth a year-long wait.

That delay has also left many wondering if the USMNT program has really learned from its mistakes, and is really on a new and improved path.

There are new people in charge, such as U.S. Soccer president Carlos Cordeiro and USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart, but the presence of new leaders hasn't exactly boosted excitement levels about the program.

Earnie Stewart USMNT 08202016

The good news is there is a generation of young talent in the USMNT pipeline that is better than any before it, with promising prospects who look very capable of leading the team's rebuilding process. This is clear to even the most cynical of observers, and if anything, perhaps it is the knowledge that help is on the way that is making it even more frustrating to watch the coaching search drag on, adding to a growing fear that we could be in for another bad hire after the failed appointments of Jurgen Klinsmann in 2011 and Bruce Arena in 2016.

That fear and heightened skepticism is only natural given what happened just a year ago, and it won't vanish simply with the appointment of a new USMNT coach. It will take time and victories in meaningful matches to start rebuilding the faith and confidence that was lost in Trinidad & Tobago. It will take the hiring of the right coach to cultivate the strong crop of upcoming talent.

Ultimately it will take smart decisions by U.S. Soccer leaders to not just avoid the mistakes of previous leadership that paved the way for last year's disaster, but help the program get to the point where USMNT fans can have realistic dreams of deep World Cup runs instead of fears of another qualifying disaster three years from now.

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