KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The failure of the United States men’s national soccer team to reach the 2018 World Cup could bring an impact to the game both in the metro and across the country.
The US was eliminated after shockingly losing to Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday.
A day after the defeat, former Kansas City Wizards and national team player Nick Garcia said he was shocked.
“The U.S. had a chance,” he explained. “Things fell apart. The worst case scenario definitely played out."
Garcia played for the national team during his career and said being able to do so was an honor.
“It is the highest honor as a soccer player,” he explained. “It gives you goosebumps every time you step out there knowing that you represent not only yourself and your teammates but everybody else in the United States."
Following the elimination of the U.S. men’s team from the tournament next year, Garcia said the missed opportunity could impact many things.
“That financial windfall. You look at TV revenue, revenue for MLS (Major League Soccer), potential new viewers,” he explained. “Come World Cup time, you're not going to have people in bars and restaurants watching games."
Garcia said he grew up watching and cheering for U.S. soccer players like Tony Meola and John Harkes, but the team would miss a chance to reach youth players next summer
“They're going to have to look outside the U.S. for the role models and heroes,” he explained. “That's a massive blow for us."
The team’s World Cup defeat comes at a time when soccer continues to grow in the metro area.
Garcia currently works as a club administrator for the Brookside Soccer Club and helps oversee around 2,400 youth soccer players and 300 teams.
Since joining the club five years ago, Garcia said the number of children playing soccer has increased 10-12 percent each year.
The former Wizards player said the strong presence of professional soccer teams, notably Sporting KC, adds to the presence of the game in the metro.
“We are you could say, and I know they've coined this phrase, ‘Soccer City USA’,” he said. “There's more kids playing, so those numbers have definitely grown. You have two winning teams here in town with Sporting KC and the Swope Park Rangers and you have the women's team here.”
Kansas City’s strong soccer presence can also be seen at facilities like Swope Soccer Village.
Children can be seen nearly every day practicing or playing in games there, including Joellen Richardson’s eight-year-old son Braxton.
“My little one is full of energy and so the running is great,” she told 41 Action News.
Richardson said she has seen more and more children showing up to the facility and weekends there are often crowded with families.
“I know that I see a lot more minority students getting involved and getting out,” the mother explained. “If you come on Saturdays, it's just bustling with people. There are games on every field and parents everywhere."
Moving forward, Garcia said the rise of soccer in the metro could eventually play a role in helping the U.S. men’s national team get back on track.
“Maybe now we can regroup, reorganize and refocus,” he explained.