11/1/23 - It wasn't meant to be. The USA567 Men's National Team and Mexico were headed for a collision course in the 2023 WMF World Cup Quarterfinals, but both teams lost in back-to-back games in the Round of 16, ending the two MASL-based teams' run in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE.
Mexico lost 2-1 in extra time to Kazakhstan after the teams played to a scoreless tie in regulation. The US then followed with a 4-2 loss to Czech Republic, their second straight WMF World Cup loss in the Round of 16 at the hands of the Czechs.
The US played three top rated teams in the 2023 WMF World Cup, and though they tied Spain 2-2, and Romania 0-0, they never led in any of the three games while Czech Republic had an easier group, piling up a 21-1 goal differential against Thailand, Algeria, and Ukraine.
Czech Republic took a 1-0 lead in the 10th minute when their goalkeeper Ondrej Biro crossed midfield and blasted an uncontested shot past US goalkeeper Boris Pardo. The US tied the game, however, on a strong Frank Tayou goal in the 29th minute.
The US seemed to have momentum, but Biro came past midfield unchallenged again and set up a Denis Lanka goal. The US gave up a goal on a botched header back to Pardo, but it was disallowed when Pardo was fouled on the play. That reprieve was short-lived when Daniel Klima's restart goal officially made it 3-1. Stefan Mijatovic gave the US a chance when he scored two minutes later in the 45th minute to cut the deficit to 3-2.
An up-tempo sixth attacker assault by the US couldn't knot the game at 3-3, and Jan Koudelka scored an empty net goal in the game's final moments to make it 4-2.
In finishing second in its group, the US doomed itself to have to make the greatest run in minifootball history. On paper, the tie with Romania would have been followed by games against Czech Republic, Mexico, Azerbaijan, and Romania again in the Final. Mexico's loss to Kazakhstan (and their group play loss to Georgia), shows that anything can happen, but that the US still has a ways to go to be counted among the true giants of minifootball.
Still, it wasn't a lost year. The US won the EMF Nations Games in May, a tournament that consisted of six teams who all advanced to the WMF World Cup's Round of 16, and they beat powerhouse Romania in Slovakia and tied them in Ras Al Khaimah. Each tournament and each game has led to incremental improvment in how the US has adapted from being a nation that plays arena soccer to a nation that can compete regularly in the discipline of minifootball.