My heart dropped when I heard the news.

The United States men’s national soccer team would not qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. It’s the first World Cup the country has missed since 1986.

And it’s unfathomable given the resources put into growing the game throughout the U.S. that the Americans would lose to Trinidad and Tobago when all they needed was a draw.

It wasn’t just painful because I wouldn’t get to root for the squad next summer, but because I also realize the impact it has on youth soccer across the States.

I know what you’re saying. Who cares about soccer?

How about the 4.1 million players of all ages throughout the U.S.? It’s an increase of 1.6 million players in the past 15 years. More than 800,000 of those play for their high-school team.

And as far as viewership goes, Major League Soccer is getting record turnouts year after year, including sellouts at major soccer cities like Portland and Seattle. During the 2014 World Cup, 24.7 million people tuned in to a U.S. match against Portugal. In comparison, that’s slightly more than a typical World Series game will get. So yes, people care.

I remember going up to Bellingham long before I ever called it home to officiate a youth soccer tournament when I was just 16. A tent was set up with projector screens to watch the U.S. team play Ghana. Kids sat in the front, eyes affixed to the screen. Adults stood behind, tense with anticipation at every touch of the ball.

That won’t happen this year.

I remember seeing bars packed full of rowdy fans during the 2014 World Cup, just hoping it would be the Americans year.

That won’t happen this year.

And it doesn’t bode well for the future of soccer, once one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. All the strides the country made in keeping up with the world’s favorite sport take a huge hit with the 2-1 defeat to Trinidad.

In Cowlitz County, where the sport finally seemed to be taking hold, kids won’t get to see their favorite players on the biggest stage. They won’t fall in love with the beautiful runs from Argentina’s Lionel Messi or the masterful dribbling from Portugal’s Christiano Ronaldo.

They won’t get to see the tactical brilliance of the German side or the performance art the Brazil squad puts on next summer.

They won’t fall in love with the game like I did in 2006, when I would sneak on to the school computer in middle school to check the day’s results. This “embarrassment,” as former U.S. soccer player Taylor Twellman called it, will have lasting effects.

And I hate to see my favorite sport suffer. So I just have one thing to say:

The U.S. women’s national team is still the best in the world.

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Joshua is the sports editor for The Daily News. He joined the staff in January 2016 after working at The Bellingham Herald. He is a Western Washington University graduate and native of the Puget Sound region.

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