Nevius: When will US rejoin World Cup party?

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A 30-something guy we know has a variety of interests. He’s into tech, fashion and food. Not sports.

Sometimes we tease him by asking if he knows who is playing in an upcoming big game. Spoiler alert: He doesn’t.

But the other day he mentioned he is checking out the World Cup.

“To see what hairstyles we will be wearing for the next four years,” he said.

It seemed the Cup influenced everything. A friend said he’d get up in the morning “and my wife is already downstairs, watching soccer and yelling at the TV.”

I saw the England-Croatia semifinal at the Irish Bank in the Financial District. Any doubt about the fervor of the SRO crowd was dispelled when they sang “God Save the Queen” at the start.

I think I watched at least one game every day of the Cup. But I’d have been happy with just a live camera on Diego Maradona. At various moments the former Argentinian superstar was passed out, kissing a seatmate, flipping off the crowd and being wheeled off to the hospital after collapsing.

So clearly we can forget what used to be the knee-jerk debate of the sport: Will soccer ever come to America?

That’s over. Americans get soccer. The English Premier League is a fixture on Fox. It’s routine to see someone on the street wearing a Barcelona jersey. The World Cup is just more proof.

Why not? It’s a perfect spectator sport. There are grand vistas of grass, a big easy-to-follow ball and athletes who are neither freakishly muscled nor 7 feet tall.

And they have mad skills. When French sensation Kylian Mbappe pulled off a double backheel, my first thought was, that was amazing. And my second was, I can’t believe I know what a backheel is.

Which brings us to the real question: Not will soccer come to America, but will Americans come to international soccer?

’Cause right now we’re kind of an embarrassment. Just before the Cup, a couple of us were talking to an Irish soccer fan who knew the betting line on all the teams.

“And what are the odds on the Americans?” I said.

He looked at me with a mixture of pity and incredulity. Is it possible I didn’t know?

“You didn’t make it,” he said gravely.

Yup. Just kidding. We know. The USA was eliminated from the World Cup after losing to — and it still seems incomprehensible to read these words — Trinidad and Tobago.

That’s why this is actually the international-audition-for-USA-coach Cup. Make no mistake. The U.S. is hiring.

National boundaries mean nothing. The Belgian coach is Spanish. The coach of the surprising Nigerian Super Eagles is German. We’ll take anybody who can get this going.

The last bold choice was Jurgen Klinsmann, who was billed as an eccentric genius.

And he was. If you strike the “genius” part. A legendary German striker, Klinsmann became known for quirky, last-second formation changes, head-shaking position swaps and telling unhappy American fans that they didn’t understand the game.

I’ll tell you what we understood. Klinsmann promised a team of quick, crisp passes, individual ball skills and German-like precision.

Instead we got the usual — a long looping ball down the center of the field and then Clint Dempsey falls down.

Klinsmann got off to a rousing start by cutting Landon Donovan, America’s most popular and decorated player, and it went downhill from there. In a way, the loss to Trinidad and Tobago was a fitting end.

So now a blue-ribbon panel has surely been assembled to take a good hard look at American soccer. Unfortunately, we know what it is going to say.

Our best athletes are playing other sports. There’s not enough outreach in poorer communities. Soccer academies must be established to nurture talent.

And that’s all fine. But not to be a soccer downer, I don’t think that’s the real problem. It’s money.

Not more money to soccer development, although that would be OK. Real money, like when a kid with elite athletic skills sees an NBA, NFL or MLB player signing a contract for hundreds of millions of dollars. Is he going to play one of the big three sports — with a potential jackpot — or soccer, where he might get a job on an MLS squad with a vague hope of a chance on a European team?

Instead of trying to poach other sports, I’d go with the kids who live and breathe the game. And, by the way, I wouldn’t be in a rush to promote them to the toughest competition.

The great American soccer hope is 19-year-old Christian Pulisic. Pulisic not only dazzles for the U.S., he’s a star for Dortmund, a top German team.

But asked for the Pulisic blueprint for success, his father, Mark, referenced an unusual theory. Invited to move up to a more competitive team as a teenager, Christian elected to stay at the lower level. The feeling was it was more important to experience success and gain confidence than to be stressed.

Maybe that’s the template for the USA. Get a good new coach. Stay here, practice his methods, gain some confidence and then take on the world.

’Cause frankly, right now things couldn’t be much worse. The World Cup was the biggest party on earth and we didn’t have an invitation.

Contact C.W. Nevius at Twitter: @cwnevius.

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