For the first time in 32 years, the United States men’s national team has failed to qualify for a World Cup.
On one of the worst nights in American soccer history, if not the worst, the U.S. slumped to an ugly 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago. In simultaneous games, Honduras beat Mexico 3-2 and Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1. Those results sent the U.S. crashing toward elimination. They will not be playing next summer in Russia.
Players reportedly broke down in tears after the final whistle. The failure was incomprehensible even to them. The stunning series of events was the only one that could have eliminated the U.S. But it happened.
It happened mostly by way of an American debacle. Trinidad had claimed just three points from its previous nine qualifiers. The U.S. had no business dropping points, much less losing. And yet it did.
The U.S. men and women had previously qualified for every World Cup since 1990 – since Paul Caligiuri scored a golazo on Trinidadian soil to kickstart American soccer’s rise. The men had qualified with ease the last three cycles. But they lost their two opening matches under Jurgen Klinsmann. Klinsmann paid for those failures with his job. Bruce Arena was brought in to steady the ship, and at first he did. But over the past two months, everything went awry.
They especially went awry on Tuesday. The first 45 minutes were arguably the U.S.’s worst of the qualifying campaign. The Yanks created few chances. They were plodding. They were shockingly poor.
One calamitous moment put them behind. Omar Gonzalez – starting ahead of regular center back Geoff Cameron for the second consecutive game – flailed at a cross. The ball spun off his foot, over Tim Howard and into the U.S. net:
The Americans were then the victims of a world-class goal from Trinidad and Tobago’s Alvin Jones:
Even with a 2-0 deficit, the U.S. was in a comfortable position going into halftime, but only because Mexico led Honduras 2-1 and Costa Rica led Panama 1-0. Those results, even coupled with a U.S. loss, would have sent the Yanks to Russia, in third place.
But the other two results would not hold. Honduras scored twice shortly after halftime to send American fans into panic mode. Panama also scored around the same time. At that point, the U.S. was headed for the fourth-place playoff.
Around that same time, Christian Pulisic pulled a goal back for the U.S.:
A draw would have been enough to send the U.S. to Russia, regardless of other scores. So the Americans continued to press forward. Clint Dempsey, who came on as a substitute at halftime, hit the post with a left-footed strike with 15 minutes remaining. He had a close-range header saved in the 88th minute.
Trinidad and Tobago, though, also had its chances, and easily could have made it 3-1. The U.S. played unfathomably poorly. The same team that beat Panama 4-0 on Friday, with exactly the same lineup, was disjointed and lethargic.
In the end, the U.S. could not find an equalizer, which left its hopes hanging by a thread with Honduras winning and Panama one goal away from eliminating the Americans.
Panama then found that goal. And the U.S. is out. Done. Eliminated. More than five years away from realizing World Cup dreams.
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