When it happened again this week, the American team did so with Major League Soccer in unprecedented health.
"It's a dark day", Donovan, who recently retired from the sport, said in a phone interview.
But many soccer enthusiasts feel a country with more than 320 million people should be able to find 25 players good enough to qualify for the World Cup. "We all know sports - anything can happen".
"I think there are a number of reasons we're missing the best kids, but the fact is we are missing a lot of the best kids", Donovan said. "Yes, it will take money but we can use this moment to really make sure we start developing the game at all levels".
Vermes is a proven victor in MLS and in the United States. The USMNT is an end product, not a development platform, and can not solve any of U.S. Soccer's larger problems. Even pro teams in the US are training young players.
With fingers pointing at anyone connected to the men's national team, Sunil Gulati, the president of the sport's national federation, is under pressure now.
It's a predictable script because the United States of America has been a fixture at the World Cup for so long we couldn't imagine it missing the great quadrennial sporting event. As I sit at my computer this Wednesday afternoon and write this article, I simply can't shake the lingering despair that I won't get to see Christian Pulisic and some of the best young talent from the country play in a World Cup until 2022.
One thing to keep in mind as we cope with the disappointment of missing the 2018 World Cup and point out all the problems with youth soccer is that, traditionally, U.S. Soccer played a limited role in the youth game.
With the expansion side, he's not only clinched a playoff spot in the club's first season, but done so in style with a squad of players that most teams would kill for.
Stated Cove, "We need to become more local, more affordable, more welcoming of different cultures and socioeconomic classes", said Cove.
In a column for the Washington Post, Laurent Dubois, a Duke University professor and author of "The Language of the Game: How to Understand Soccer", in the same vein said, "One of the keys to the future of USA soccer will be tackling the inequalities that structure the sport in this country", tracing it to 'pay to play'.
On a more encouraging note, Mike Woitalla, of Soccer America Daily, noted that the launch of the Development Academy 10 years ago is starting to show results, including increasing opportunities for lower-income players. Taylor Tweilman went off on U.S. Soccer last night, but it's deeper than that.
For however miserable the qualifying campaign turned out, the performance of the leading man reminds us that not all is dire. "It's not about that".
"We need to abolish the pay-to-play system, and you have organisations like the Ncaa [National Collegiate Athletic Association], the MLS, Ussf and the [lower tier] leagues that need to come together and say "We are going to change", as Germany did in 2000".
If the country is to host the 2026 World Cup, then Rongen's view is that it should also be in a position to win it, as the American public will surely demand. It brings in more casual fans.