The section of the world that the U.S. is competing in allows for three countries to automatically qualify for World Cup 2014 in Brazil. The U.S. competes with other countries from North America, Central America, and the Caribbean.
The fourth place country does still get a chance for Brazil, but it must win a home and home series versus another country from a different area of the world first before achieving its entry.
Generally, most people think it’s a given for the U.S. to make the World Cup. But though it’s likely they will qualify, there is no guarantee.
In fact, the obstacles are mounting.
The Olympics qualifying didn’t go as planned, as the U.S. bowed out to El Salvador. Though these players were mostly under 23 (U-23) years of age, it still does not bode well for the qualifying process for the World Cup, as some of the players may be counted on to help the U.S. squad in the near future.
Landon Donovan, considered the greatest U.S. player of his generation and who has been the grittiest performer for the U.S. in past international competitions, is getting older quickly. He is losing his most important playing characteristic: his speed.
The U.S. team has lacked multiple players like the kind of player that Donovan has been, which is the kind of player with a knack for being at the right place at the right time and a flare for the dramatic.
Clint Dempsey is that kind of player, the one who can make things happen out of seemingly nothing, but he too is aging. By the time the WC rolls around, will he still have it like he does now in the English Premier League?
Then there’s the Canadian factor. With three teams now in MLS – Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto – the country is stoked for a possible soccer rebirth and berth in the WC 2014. It has been some time since their last appearance in 1986.
Canada made the Olympics and will definitely be an improved team in qualifying for WC than their teams from the recent past.
Canada is into soccer; certainly not like hockey yet, but they love the sport.
Mexico is more of a given than the U.S. at this point, though anything can happen. But with Chicharito-Javier Hernandez and his band of brothers who performed extraordinarily in the last year’s Gold Cup final against the U.S., it seems unlikely they will mess up qualifying for WC 2014.
The U.S. will have healthy rivalries with Mexico and Canada in its fight for WC 2014, but the fight doesn’t stop with those two. Costa Rica has a tremendous reputation internationally, competing in many past World Cups, and Honduras gained a lot of respect from its appearance in WC 2010.
The biggest impact of the U.S. failing to qualify for the World Cup would occur with television and advertisers.
The U.S. audience won’t watch the WC with as much luster if the U.S. is not participating. Part of what makes WC such an outstanding sporting spectacle here is that the U.S. is involved in the outcome.
Without the U.S. playing, less attention will be paid by the media and less fan interest will be generated by the casual sports fan in the U.S.
Howard Alperin is Managing Editor of AmericanizeSoccer.com