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Addressing the 800-pound gorilla in the room

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Time for a fireside chat.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Atlanta United FC Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

[Peeks from behind sofa] Is it safe to come out?

Hi readers. It’s been a while since we’ve talked. As you well know, things in Soccerland have been “not great, Bob” here recently. Despite all the positives for Atlanta United this season and the sense that we should be feeling juiced for the MLS Cup playoffs coming soon, there’s a “husky”-sized gorilla in the room now that needs addressing. Let’s do that right now.

While we are incredibly lucky to have such a diverse and vibrant fan base, obviously a large percentage of us Atlanta fans are American, and specifically, fans of the United States soccer program. And we are hurting right now. The pain that has been caused by the USMNT’s loss Tuesday and subsequent failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup feels irreparable. It feels like the sting will never go away. I’m not here to tell you that it will feel better, because it probably won’t for a while. Like, years.

In the aftermath of the catastrophe, the collective fans and media are looking for tangible causes, if for no other reason than as an antidote for the pain. We need suspects and they need to be brought to justice to be held accountable. The fingers are pointing at key figures like Bruce Arena and Sunil Gulati. Systemic problems like “pay-to-play” are revving up the criticism. And unsurprisingly (and rightly) MLS is not escaping this criminal offense without being called in for questioning.

So how do we respond as fans? Is MLS partially at fault for not developing American players as it should? How do we, as Atlanta fans specifically, justify supporting a team largely made up of imported talent in the domestic league, considering the gravity of the current American soccer atmosphere?

This whole capitulation is like a plane crash. When a modern jet crashes, it’s never due to one problem. It’s due to a series of unlikely problems that all have to happen in sequence. A plane misses a maintenance checkup. The checkup was supposed to replace a faulty sensor that had a recall on it. The faulty sensor actually malfunctions during flight. The flight is a redeye overseas, and one of the copilots is napping. The other copilot is on one of his first transcontinental flights, who doesn’t recognize the problem…. If any one of these things is corrected, the problem can be resolved. The USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup. There are many guilty parties.

Let’s start by addressing the notion that MLS is partially to blame for the collapse of the USMNT. (I think the league deserves some blame, but that’s another debate though). But even if MLS is partially culpable, it’s not the MLS of today. It’s the MLS of yesteryear, of a different generation that didn’t incentivize the production of home grown American talent that the league does today. We can see right here at home that our MLS club is doing its best to groom young Americans for the professional game. Andrew Carleton, Chris Goslin and Justin Garces are three players in our ranks that are playing for the USMNT in the U17 World Cup right now. We have another trio of George Bello, Patrick Okonkwo and Lagos Kunga who are beginning their professional careers with Atlanta United. We are doing our part. And it’s not just us, this kind of movement is happening across the league with the development of academy systems.

We don’t need to feel guilty about this. It’s not our burden to bear. Soccer is an amazing sport that delivers incredible sadness and immense joy. I, for one, as an Atlanta fan, feel lucky that we have an exciting postseason to look forward to, an amazing coaching staff that is improving the squad, fun-loving and talented players who love the city, and the best fans in the league. I can’t wait until Sunday.