COUVA, Trinidad -- With World Cup qualification seemingly in their grasp, the Americans lost 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night.
Coupled with Honduras' 3-2 victory over Mexico and Panama's 2-1 victory over Costa Rica, the U.S. finished fifth in CONCACAF's Hexagonal round, out of the running to qualify for Russia 2018.
Here are three thoughts on a humiliating night in Trinidad.
1. World Cup dream is over
There's no other way to describe it: This was a debacle on a countless number of levels.
The task seemed straightforward enough -- avoid defeat and you're in. But as it has so often during this World Cup cycle, the U.S. insisted on making life as difficult as possible and now has paid the ultimate price, failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since the 1990 cycle.
The Americans fell behind in the 17th minute on an own goal by Omar Gonzalez. Alvin Jones doubled the home side's advantage 20 minutes later with a 30-yard blast that cleanly beat U.S. keeper Tim Howard.
Even worse was that Trinidad and Tobago was fully deserving of its lead. U.S. striker Jozy Altidore missed a massive opportunity in the seventh minute when he blasted a shot over the crossbar, but after that, the Soca Warriors were stringing passes all over the Ato Boldon Stadium pitch, making the U.S. chase. The home side was also finding opportunities in transition, which was the last thing the U.S. wanted given T&T's speed and athleticism.
The Americans looked slow and lethargic and showed none of the energy that characterized their 4-0 hammering of Panama four days earlier. Certainly, the sparse crowd meant there was little atmosphere in the stadium initially, though it grew more lively as the game wore on. But with a World Cup berth on the line, one would have expected more urgency from the U.S. players, yet not enough was on display.
Manager Bruce Arena brought on Clint Dempsey for the disappointing Paul Arriola, and the U.S. was soon back in the match as Christian Pulisic's drive from distance in the 47th minute halved the deficit.
The game became a track meet thereafter, with the U.S. pressing and T&T trying to strike on the counter. Howard kept the U.S. in the match, saving Shahdon Winchester's shot midway through the second half. Dempsey hit the post in the 77th minute with a shot from distance. Bobby Wood was denied late on a fine save by T&T keeper Adrian Foncette.
That was as close as the U.S. got. Now it will have the coming months to contemplate how this World Cup qualification got away.
2. The most embarrassing performance in U.S. history?
No doubt, yes.
Heading into the match, everything was lining up for the U.S. to qualify; only a massive collapse would prevent qualification. A win would clinch the third and final qualification spot, while the colossal U.S. advantage in goal differential over Panama (seven) and Honduras (12) meant a tie would almost certainly do the trick.
Only a loss and an outright win by either the Canaleros or the Catrachos could knock the U.S. out of third place. T&T, meanwhile, was already eliminated, with manager Dennis Lawrence opting mostly for younger players in a bid to build for the future.
Yet the U.S. somehow contrived to blow this opportunity. Yes, the Americans have suffered humbling defeats before. Heck, the 1980s were littered with them. But this defeat stands alone.
Yes, the U.S. has lost to T&T before, but that was during the 2010 cycle when progress from the semifinal round was already assured. This time the U.S had everything to gain. But it also had plenty to lose, and evidently that was too much of a burden for an emotionally fragile team to carry.
3. Arena's legacy will be tarnished
As brutal as this is on the players, it is also a humiliating moment for Arena. Yes, he took over this team when it was already in a two-game hole in the Hex, but looking at the totality of his tenure, he was no more effective in inspiring this squad than predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann.
At least Klinsmann could take solace in the fact that, against Mexico and in Costa Rica, he lost two games that are among the three most difficult in the Hex (only away to Mexico is tougher). Arena oversaw a loss to Costa Rica at home and this embarrassment to Trinidad and Tobago.
And for all the talk of the U.S. being unable to take care of business at home, the road did them no favors either. Arena has built an impressive legacy for himself over the years, but that will be dwarfed in many ways by this team's failure to qualify.
Perfect Storm of Hex Results Eliminates USA from 2018 World Cup Contention After 2-1 Loss in T&T.
COUVA, Trinidad & Tobago (Oct. 10, 2017) – With an unlikely combination of results in the final Matchday of CONCACAF Qualifying, the U.S. Men’s National Team was eliminated from contention for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
After falling 2-1 to Trinidad & Tobago, the doomsday combination of a Honduras victory against Mexico (3-2) and a Panama win over Costa Rica (2-1) dropped the U.S. from third to fifth place in the Hexagonal. Panama qualified directly with its third place finish, while Honduras will face off against Australia in the intercontinental playoff.
A pair of improbable goals from the Socca Warriors in the first half gave the hosts a 2-0 lead and put the USA in the difficult position of needing to break down an opponent that kept 10 men behind the ball in the second half.
Christian Pulisic cut the deficit in half just minutes into the second stanza when his strike from the top of the box in the 47th minute found the back of the net. The U.S. continued to push forward and created numerous quality chances, but Trinidad goalkeeper Adrian Fonette was up to the task as he pulled off impressive saves to keep the lead.
Pulisic, Omar Gonzalez, Bobby Wood, and Darlington Nagbe all saw chances denied at the last moment by Fonette, while half-time substitute Clint Dempsey saw one of his two great chances hit the post flush and bounce out as time wound down.
Goal Scoring Rundown:
TRI – Omar Gonzalez (own goal), 17th minute: A Trinidad & Tobago attack down the USA’s left flank resulted in a fluke own goal when Alvin Jones centered a ball for Shahdon Winchester that was beyond his reach but ricocheted off Omar Gonzalez’s outstretched foot, looping into the top right corner of U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard’s net for the shock lead.
USA 0, TRI 1
TRI – Alvin Jones (Nathan Lewis), 36th minute: Receiving a pass from Nathan Lewis, Jones took a touch before unleashing a speculative drive nearly 30 yards out from goal. The shot from the right side of the field swerved wildly away from the center of goal, finding the left side netting. USA 0, TRI 2
USA – Christian Pulisic (Darlington Nagbe), 47th minute: Nagbe won the ball just outside the Socca Warriors’ box and played a quick pass to Pulisic, whose first touch set him up to rip a shot through traffic from just outside the top of the penalty arc across the face of goal into the top left corner. USA 1, TRI 2
Key Saves and Defensive Stops:
USA – Tim Howard, 44th minute: Having found his luck with one long-distance strike already, Jones sent a free kick from 40 yards out near the right sideline blistering toward the U.S. goal. The shot dipped just inside the six-yard box and took a nasty bounce off the choppy turf, nearly wrong-footing Howard, who held up just enough to get his shoulder to the ball and keep it out. His job not done, Howard tracked the rebound as it rolled to the left of the goal, knocking it away from Winchester with a well-executed sliding tackle.
USA – DeAndre Yedlin, 49th minute: A Trinidad attack up the right wing worked its way into the USA box but was snuffed out at the last minute by a sliding block from Yedlin to deny Nathan Lewis at the left post from four yards out with Howard down.
USA – DeAndre Yedlin, 58th minute: It was a great recovery by Yedlin to chase down Nathan Lewis and get in a last-minute sliding tackle to deny a point blank shot on goal after the speedy Socca Warriors’ attacker had gotten free down the U.S. left flank.
USA – Tim Howard 63rd minute: As the game opened up with the U.S. pushing forward for an equalizer, the ball was lifted into the U.S. box for a shot from the middle of the penalty area that Howard got down well to kick away.
TRI – Adrian Foncette, 69th minute: A well-executed set play by the USA saw Michael Bradley play the ball toward the top of the Soca Warriors’ box. Dempsey met the pass and sent a chipped shot toward the top left corner but Foncette just got a hand to tip it over the bar.
TRI – Adrian Foncette, 77th minute: As the U.S. carved out another attack, Foncette was finally beaten by a low effort from the top of the box by Dempsey. As it was headed for the lower left corner, a sprawling Foncette made a fingernail save down to his left to deflect the shot onto the post.
TRI – Adrian Foncette, 88th minute: With its last best chance to knot the score at 2-2, Bobby Wood evaded his marker and met Pulisic’s cross to send a downward header bouncing toward the right side of goal, but Foncette got down quick to push the point blank header around the post.
The U.S. MNT moved to 18-3-4 all-time vs. Trinidad & Tobago, 13-2-3 in World Cup Qualifying and 4-2-2 in away qualifiers.
Altidore and Michael Bradley appeared in 15 of the team’s 16 CONCACAF qualifiers for Russia 2018.
The Toronto FC pair also joined left back Jorge Villafaña in making their team-leading 14th appearances of 2017.
While he recorded five goals and four assists in qualifying matches this year, in one way or another, Christian Pulisic has been involved in 12 of the 17 goals scored by the U.S. during the Final Round of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying.
In order to get the gameday roster down to 23 players, defender Michael Orozco and midfielder Juan Agudelo did not dress for tonight’s match.
- U.S. Men’s National Team Match Report -
Match: U.S. Men’s National Team vs. Trinidad & Tobago
Date: Oct. 10, 2017
Competition: 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying – Final Round
Venue: Ato Boldon Stadium; Couva, Trinidad
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET
Weather: 80 degrees; mostly clear
TRI – Own Goal (Omar Gonzalez) 17th minute
TRI – Alvin Jones (Nathan Lewis) 37
USA – Christian Pulisic 47
USA: 1-Tim Howard, 2-DeAndre Yedlin, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 5-Matt Besler, 15-Jorge Villafaña (23-Kellyn Acosta, 72), 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 21-Paul Arriola (8-Clint Dempsey, 46), 10-Christian Pulisic, 6-Darlington Nagbe (16-Benny Feilhaber, 84), 9-Bobby Wood, 17-Jozy Altidore
Subs not used: 12-Brad Guzan, 22-Nick Rimando, 7-DaMarcus Beasley, 11-Alejandro Bedoya, 13-Dax McCarty, 14-Tim Ream, 18-Chris Wondolowski, 19-Graham Zusi, 20-Geoff Cameron
Head coach: Bruce Arena
TRI: 22-Adrian Foncette, 5-Daneil Cyrus, 7-Nathan Lewis, 8-Khaleem Hyland (capt.), 9-Shahdon Winchester (20-Trevin Caesar, 78), 13-Curtis Gonzales, 16-Levi Garcia (3-Joevin Jones, 72), 17-Alvin Jones, 18-Triston Hodge (4-Kevon Villaroel, 81), 19-Kevan George, 23-Leston Paul
Subs not used: 1-Glenroy Samuel, 21-Gregory Ranjitsingh, 2-Kareem Moses, 6-Josiah Trimmingham, 10-Karl Duane Muckette, 11-Neil Benjamin, 12-Kathon St. Hillaire, 14-Akeem Roach, 15-Jared London
Head coach: Dennis Lawrence
Stats Summary: USA / TRI
Shots: 15 / 11
Shots on Goal: 6 / 5
Saves: 3 / 5
Corner Kicks: 5 / 2
Fouls: 18 / 11
Offside: 3 / 3
TRI – Triston Hodge (caution) 68th minute
USA – Omar Gonzalez (caution) 90+1
TRI – Joevin Jones (caution) 90+3
USA – Matt Besler (caution) 90+5
Referee: Juan Carlos Guerra (GUA)
USA's Haunting World Cup Qualifying Failure Emits Blame, Shock and Calls for Change.
By Grant Wahl (si.com).
COUVA, Trinidad and Tobago — Let’s be perfectly clear: The most embarrassing failure in U.S. Soccer history was consummated on Tuesday night in a near-empty stadium in the Caribbean tropics, culminating in a soul-crushing 2-1 defeat to a last-place opponent in which the U.S. men’s national team had only needed a win or a tie to qualify for World Cup 2018.
But this miasma of futility—causing the U.S. to miss the World Cup for the first time since 1986—was only the endpoint of a long series of felonies and misdemeanors over the last 12 months in Columbus, Ohio, and in San Jose, Costa Rica; in Harrison, N.J., and in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The dateline for the autopsy of this U.S. team may read Couva, a tiny town that no U.S. soccer fan will ever forget, but the seeds for this dark day were planted in several locations.
When it comes down to it, CONCACAF is a frighteningly forgiving region for World Cup qualifying. Mexico qualified for Brazil 2014 after winning just two of 10 Hexagonal games. The U.S. was eliminated from Russia 2018 after just three victories in 10 qualifiers. The Americans started with a giant margin for error and then proceeded to whittle it down, in chunks large and small, from two opening defeats to last month’s home loss to Costa Rica to the finishing blow on Tuesday—a catastrophic capitulation to a team that had lost six straight Hexagonal games.
Afterward, players fought back tears. One of them was defender Omar Gonzalez, who saw the hosts’ first goal bounce off his shin and into the U.S. net for an own goal.
“It’s one that will haunt me forever,” he said. “I never thought I would see this day. It’s the worst day of my career … What was supposed to be a celebration is now … I don’t even know what to say. It’s terrible. I just want to say sorry to all the fans that were pulling for us, that wanted to go to Russia, that believed in us. We let down an entire nation today.”
Another player who was disconsolate was forward Jozy Altidore, who made little impact on the game.
“If you don’t look at yourself after this individually,” he said, “I think you’re f---ed up in the head.”
U.S. captain Michael Bradley had 90 minutes by himself in doping control after the game to digest the doomsday scenario that had just played out; a U.S. loss combined with Panama and Honduras wins was the only way the Americans could be eliminated.
“It was a perfect storm kind of night,” he said after emerging. “Everything that could have possibly gone wrong did, in this stadium and in two other stadiums across the region. To give away the first goal like that [on an own goal] is a killer. It comes from nothing and it ultimately gives them life, gives them energy. It means that all of the sudden they believe, that there’s something there for them. The second goal, the guy [Alvin Jones] hits a great shot that flies into the far corner … We got back to 2-1 and at that point couldn’t make a play to unlock them, couldn’t get the final pass, the final shot, the final action. You can go around in circles a million times over again. But the reality is it was all there for us, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
He’s right. The U.S. deserved to drop all the points it did during this miserable qualifying campaign. There were no horrible referee calls that changed results, no bad bounces that somehow rolled into the goal. Trinidad and Tobago, like Costa Rica before it, realized that this U.S. team could be beaten if you sat back, soaked up pressure and picked the right spots to move forward and threaten the goal. The U.S. proved time and again that it didn’t have the ability to break down a team defending that way. You can’t ask 19-year-old Christian Pulisic—who scored the U.S. goal on Tuesday—to do everything.
“Teams certainly have shown they’re going to sit back and frustrate us,” said U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard. “So you’re probably going to need to break some teams down. Until we do that, teams won’t come out of their shell.”
Under Arena, the U.S. had appeared to recover much of its old identity—namely, being hard to play against as a unit—between March and June. But that identity mysteriously disappeared again in three of the last four qualifying games over the past month.
“Collectively one through 11, we weren’t able to defend well enough,” said Altidore. “You can’t go and score four or five goals every game. We have to be able to be hard to play against. We weren’t hard enough to play against too many times.”
Most of the U.S. players appeared shellshocked. When the Netherlands was eliminated from the World Cup on Tuesday, the Dutch players knew it was coming, since they had to win by an unrealistic seven goals over Sweden. But the Americans fully expected to qualify for Russia on Tuesday, and at the very least they thought they’d be heading to the intercontinental playoff against Australia. Full elimination wasn’t in the picture, and their dazed looks suggested they were having trouble processing it.
A full reckoning will now have to take place by U.S. Soccer. Arena’s days are numbered, for one thing. He took responsibility for the failure after the game, as he should have: The home loss to Costa Rica and Tuesday’s fiasco were inexcusable.
“I’m clearly very disappointed,” he said. “We had everything there for us today … We should not be staying home from this World Cup.”
But Arena wouldn’t go so far to say that major changes should take place in U.S. Soccer.
“There’s nothing wrong with what we’re doing,” he argued. “Certainly, I think if our league continues to grow it benefits the national team program. We have some good players coming up. Nothing has to change. To make any kind of crazy changes I think would be foolish. We’re building a consistent professional league. We have players playing abroad of a certain quality. There’s enough there. There’s no excuses for us to not qualify for the World Cup.”
As Arena spoke, U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati sat nearby with a blank look on his face, as if he didn’t know what had hit him.
“Extremely disappointed,” he said. “We certainly expected to qualify throughout the process and especially after Friday night [a 4-0 win over Panama]. So it’s a huge disappointment for everybody: The players, the staff, the coaches, for the federation. It’s not good enough, obviously.”
But when Gulati was pressed on whether wholesale changes were necessary after this debacle, he shook his head.
“So wholesale changes aren’t needed if the ball that hits off the post [from Clint Dempsey] goes in?” he said. “You don’t make wholesale changes based on the ball being two inches wide or two inches in. We’ll look at everything, obviously, and all our programs, both the national team and all the development stuff. But we’ve got a lot of pieces in place that we think are very good and have been coming along. Tonight obviously wasn’t what we hoped for.”
Yet this American failure wasn’t due to one shot hitting the post. It was due to repeated fatal flaws that were exposed time and again over the last 12 months. If you can’t qualify from one of the easiest and most forgiving regional competitions on Earth, how are you going to compete at a World Cup? It remains to be seen now whether Gulati will run for reelection in February—and whether he’ll have a chance to win if he does. The drumbeat for change, real change, will ring loudly now.
At the same time, be wary of those who promise easy answers for complex problems. Too many people in the U.S. soccer community think there are lightning-bolt answers—Promotion and relegation! Send all the youngsters to Europe!—that will solve everything. They won’t. There should be an honest discussion, though, of the factors that led to this day that will live in infamy. It will take some time.
On Tuesday night, though, everyone was still processing the shock and what had led to it.
“We dropped too many points on too many days,” Bradley said. “We put ourselves at a disadvantage from the very beginning when we lost the first two games. When you lose the first two games and drop points on too many days, your margin for error goes. So you know you’re at the mercy of a night like this where everything possible goes against you, both here and in the two other games.
“That’s just reality. That’s on us.”
And then Bradley walked away, by himself, into the darkness and an uncertain future for U.S. Soccer.
USMNT's failure to make the World Cup is the biggest embarrassment in U.S. sports history
By: Andrew Joseph (usatoday).
It’s been 31 years since May 31, 1986 — the last World Cup that didn’t feature the United States. That’s 11,456 days of progress for a sport that’s come so far in a country that still hasn’t fully embraced it.
All of that gone.
With U.S. soccer’s dreadful 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago on the final day of CONCACAF’s qualifying hexagonal for the 2018 World Cup, next summer’s tournament will not feature the USMNT. No Christian Pulisic. No Tim Howard. No Michael Bradley. With that loss, the USMNT gave a nation the lowest point in its sporting history, and it’s not really close.
CONCACAF is a grind, but compared to the other qualifying regions, the 3.5 World Cup spots out of six teams mean that the United States should be a lock to qualify. When it beat Panama, 4-0, on Friday, the U.S. put itself in position to escape a lackluster qualifying round with a spot in the tournament. All it really needed to do was take care of business at lowly Trinidad and Tobago.
They couldn’t even do that. With no sense of urgency, USMNT players and coaches had to watch as their CONCACAF counterparts did them no favors. Four years after the USMNT saved Mexico’s World Cup dreams, El Tri instead blew a lead to Honduras and helped seal the USMNT’s fate. Costa Rica also blew a lead to Panama on a goal that shouldn’t have counted and gave up a late winner as the U.S. decided to score-watch rather than take matters into its own hands. A mostly empty stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago, felt even emptier on this night.
It’s really difficult to quantify how bad this loss was for U.S. Soccer. Sunil Gulati and Bruce Arena should both be gone. Tim Howard, whose last World Cup appearance was a legendary performance, will likely leave U.S. Soccer with the lasting image of his worst performance with the national team. As bad as things got for the USMNT, the possibility of missing the World Cup didn’t actually seem real. It’s that arrogance that likely brought the team to where it is right now — out of the World Cup. When U.S. soccer legend Alexi Lalas called out the USMNT, its biggest star, Pulisic, laughed off the attempted gut-check rant.
But when it comes down to it, though, the sport of soccer in the U.S. is going to feel the lasting effects the most. Every World Cup is an opportunity to grow the sport on the biggest stage.
Even the growth from 2010, to 2014, to now has been tremendous. A nation went crazy when Landon Donovan sent the USMNT into the Round of 16 with his late winner in 2010 (a loss would have meant an early trip home). A nation went crazy when John Brooks put the U.S. ahead against Ghana in 2014, as he ran around not fully processing what he had done.
Those moments forge memories and make lifelong fans of the sport. It creates momentum that makes it possible for an MLS team to draw 71,000 fans for a regular season match. Those moments inspire a young fan to kick around a soccer ball rather than throw a football. Those moments make it possible for a 19-year-old wonderkid to break through into the next level of international stardom.
That’s not happening anymore. It’s five years — at best — of the USMNT out of the forefront of American sports. All because U.S. soccer let 95 minutes of arrogance erase 31 years of progress.
And that is truly a shame.