The United States Must Defeat Paraguay to Become Relevant in International Soccer
Soccer is still a growing sport in the United States, so if Americans want to be pertinent in relation to the rest of the world, then the US Men's National Team must advance out of the group stage of Copa América 2016, and the only way to do that is to defeat Paraguay on June 11.
After the Yanks' impressive 4-0 win over Costa Rica on Tuesday, the Americans are now sitting in second place of Group A in Copa América 2016 with three points behind the FIFA third-ranked Columbia squad, who defeated the USA 2-0 in the opening match of the tournament (and don't get offended by the term "Yanks." That's just a common nickname amongst US Soccer fans). This is a tournament that many thought would be advantageous for the United States; being played on their home soil and dodging the likes of world superpowers in the group stage such as Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Chile, and Mexico.
Sure, a win over the currently 44th-ranked team according to FIFA isn't, in and of itself, an important feat. However, with the result of the match against Costa Rica, a win over Paraguay will guarantee the USA a spot in the knock-out stage of the largest tournament in the Western Hemisphere. Winning a huge tournament, or at least advancing far in one, would be quite the accomplishment for the 31st ranked team in international soccer.
But that's not the only thing on the line for US Soccer in this important match-up.
Let's take care of some dirty laundry before we get too much further. This country isn't a powerhouse in the international soccer world simply because the interest and passion for the sport isn't as high as in many other countries. If interest isn't there, then the quality athletes won't play. If the quality athletes won't play, then elite coaches won't put forth the effort to further increase the quality of play. And this vicious cycle just repeats itself over and over and over and over and over, ad infinitum. You may be of the opinion that soccer is a dumb sport, and that's further proving my point. Or, you may be of the opinion that the quality and passion is already here to be an elite soccer-playing country, and you're just being delusional. We're right in the middle of both ideologies, and it's sports' version of purgatory.
There are fringe soccer fans in this country: fans that may not have been soccer fans before, but now they're giving it a chance, and you may be one of them (if for no other reason than to keep an eye on the results of the US Women's National Team's success, which is a completely different conversation as to why that is the case). Those fans (and I dare say there are a lot of them) need success from the team they support in order for them to continue to support said team like other beloved teams in this country (New England Patriots, Alabama Crimson Tide, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers, etc). Winning cures all ailments, but that's been a problem with US Soccer: it's never been dominant. It's been average to above-average for as long as the United States Soccer Association has been alive and kicking (pardon my pun).
You may be a fan reading this and you're telling yourself, "I'm a huge supporter of US Soccer." That's good. US Soccer needs more of that to be more successful in the international game. And you may be someone reading this that thinks soccer is the stupidest thing on this planet, and you're entitled to your opinion. Regardless of what your viewpoint is, the fact remains the same: if the US wants to become more relevant in the world of soccer, it's time to become successful in major tournaments (e.g. a Round of 16 appearance in the 2014 World Cup), especially in tournaments hosted on United States soil.
It's fun to think about the future of the US men's senior squad with great young talents such as seventeen-year-old Christian Pulisic, Bobby Wood, Gyasi Zardes, Deandre Yedlin, Darlington Nagbe, Jordan Morris, and John Brooks. But without increasing the passion, support, expectations, and quality of collective play on the field, all this young talent may go to waste yet again (those of us who have kept up with soccer all remember when Landon Donovan, Jermaine Jones, Chris Wondolowski, and Clint Dempsey were coming up through the youth ranks).
Five years ago, US Soccer hired Jürgen Klinsmann to be the senior men's national team head coach, and with the hire came some higher expectations for the program. His coaching resumé wasn't long, but it was promising: he coached the German national team from 2004-2006, and was hired as the head coach of Bayern Munich for the 2008-2009 season, one of the best club teams in the world. There is currently talk among national pundits of potentially parting ways with Klinsmann after a promising start to his stint for the USA, but a stagnant past couple of years. Maybe he saw this youth movement coming a few years ago and he's preparing for a huge jump in the coming years, or maybe it's just coincidence. Regardless, a disappointing finish to the United States' appearance in Copa América 2016 on their own home soil (I can't say that enough) will sting much more than any future promise of increased quality of play.
In essence, the actuality of defeating Paraguay in Copa América 2016 won't be the greatest individual victory in US Soccer history by any stretch of the imagination, but losing to them or even getting a draw will produce a ripple effect that will be difficult to recover from. A loss and/or draw means that the US would be eliminated from a major international tournament in the group stage, on its home soil, in front of a fan base that is giving them a chance after watching its women's squad win the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup title.
No pressure boys... Well, actually, there kinda is.