In addition to the wrinkles, pounds and gray hairs one collects as one ages there are the scars.
Anyone who has run, walked or loved with passion has them. They are signs of experience and perspective which allow you to carry on and, if you’re lucky, grow.
So add one more nick in the old sports tickers belonging to fans of the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team, which on Tuesday night failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
(Given the region we live in as well as the fantastic melting pot that is this country, it should be noted that those same hearts may be swelling with pride given that many other countries for which they beat — Mexico, for example — have earned a right to play in the sport’s most important tournament.)
The healed-over wound on my still mildly tender corazon was inflicted in 2002. That year the USMNT lost to futbol powerhouse Germany in the quarterfinal. It was, in biblical terms, a David vs. Goliath match and, given American’s eternal optimism, love for the underdog and belief in Hollywood endings, there was a confidence the U.S. could win.
Until they didn’t. And hope collapsed and hearts were crushed.
As in all matters of the heart, time healed the injury. Life went on, providing more disappointment, success and clarity. The rose-colored glasses that were used to watch the Yanks play the world’s beautiful game were cracked and discarded on a Little Italy street outside a British pub where I watched that game back in 2002.
That squad was a good team, perhaps the greatest group of players this country has produced (though not anywhere close to being great by international standards). Since then the teams have been mediocre more often than good. Anyone who has been objectively watching the team will tell you that.
But there is a contingent of people who have grown up accustomed to seeing the United States play in The Cup. For them, this is their first heartbreak.
The last time the U.S. failed to qualify was for the 1986 tournament. For perspective, current men’s national team member and Chula Vista native Paul Arriola was not yet of this world.
Born 22 years ago he and his generation have been accustomed to the States, by hook or by crook, playing in the World Cup.
No more. Reality has smacked their own set of glasses off their innocent faces.
But in time they’ll see that it’s OK. Two years from now they’ll have another chance to watch their team start qualifying for the next World Cup — Qatar 2022.
To the young that feels like ages from now. But for those of us who have been around we know five years passes relatively quickly. Too quickly. And our hearts, though battered, will survive.