COUVA, Trinidad and Tobago — On the most surreal and embarrassing night in U.S. soccer history, the U.S. men’s national team lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago (the worst team in the CONCACAF Hexagonal) and was eliminated from contention for World Cup 2018.
The doomsday scenario happened.
All the U.S. needed to do to qualify for the World Cup was to win or tie. And they lost, a deserving defeat that ended a miserable qualifying campaign—three wins in 10 Hexagonal games—and will raise enormous questions about the overall direction of the U.S. Soccer Federation, the players and coach Bruce Arena. The U.S. loss opened the door to Panama and Honduras, which both needed to win to ensure the U.S. elimination, which was exactly what happened. Honduras rallied from two deficits to beat Mexico in San Pedro Sula, while Panama rode a controversial Blas Perez opener and a Roman Torres late winner to beat Costa Rica in Panama City.
Here are three thoughts on the USA's ouster:
The U.S. should be utterly embarrassed
On a night when Arena’s team had control of its own destiny, the Americans had one of the most infamous belly-flops in U.S. soccer history, losing to the already-eliminated Trinis with everything on the line for the United States.
In a pitiful first-half performance, the U.S. lacked urgency and went through the motions while the hosts looked like the ones who had a chance to qualify for the World Cup. Trinidad and Tobago took a 2-0 halftime lead on an own-goal by Omar Gonzalez and a golazo from distance by Alvin Jones, and the U.S. response was tepid at best. This was a team with players acting like they thought they had already qualified for the World Cup, and it showed.
Only one U.S. player had a decent game
Christian Pulisic pulled one back for the Americans early in the second half with a laser from outside the box. Pulisic was largely bottled up otherwise, but at least he had one dazzling moment. His teammates could hardly say the same. Forwards Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood were nonexistent. Wings Darlington Nagbe and Paul Arriola were invisible. Goalkeeper Tim Howard could have been in better position on both goals. And Gonzalez showed with his own-goal and what should have been called a penalty soon thereafter that he was a poor choice by Arena to be on the field, especially with Premier League starter Geoff Cameron on the bench.
Tear it all down
The far-reaching impacts of this colossal failure will be felt for a long time, not just by the figures on the field on Tuesday but also by the millions and millions of dollars lost by any number of stakeholders in the sport in the United States. The men’s World Cup only comes around once every four years, and the missed opportunity to create millions of new soccer fans in the U.S. is a crushing blow. Missing the World Cup won’t cripple the sport in the U.S., but it will be a huge step back for a sport that had been on the rise for a long time.