When the soccer or, if you prefer football, world gathers for the World Cup next year in Russia the United States will not be a participant for the first time since 1986.
The USMNT knew that a draw versus Trinidad and Tobago would more than likely be enough to punch a ticket to Russia, instead the Americans dropped a stunning 2-1 decision to T&T, the last place team in the six-team group fighting for its place in the Mundial.
With Panama beating Costa Rica 2-1 to finish third in the Hex and Mexico falling to Honduras by a 3-2 score the Americans landed in fifth place, missing out on even the fourth place playoff against Australia that went to Honduras.
In contrast to a fast start Friday night in Orlando versus Panama the U.S. was sluggish when the whistle blew Tuesday night at T&T’s Ato Bolden Stadium.
The Soca Warriors came into this match with one win and eight losses in nine games in the Hex, the final round of World Cup Qualifiers, with nothing to play for but also nothing to lose.
For their part, the Americans began the match as if mired in the muck of the heavy pitch, much in the news since U.S. tweeted pictures of the “moat” ringing the pitch at yesterday’s practice session.
Disaster struck for the favorites in the 17th minute when Omar Gonzalez mishit his attempted clearance on a T&T cross, with the ball spinning off of his leg, over Tim Howard’s head, and into the U.S. goal.
It was a stunning blow for the Americans and it nearly got worse less than a minute later, although the U.S. got a break when Gonzalez got away with a trip that could well have resulted in a penalty for the home team.
With Geoff Cameron sitting on the bench, Arena’s loyalty to Gonzalez, his former player with the L.A. Galaxy, will be a major talking point in the World Cup postmortems, given the Pachuca man’s desultory performances coming into this final match of the Hex.
Trinidad and Tobago’s second goal was perhaps a bigger shock than the first, coming as it did on a blast from fullback Alvin Jones, younger brother of Seattle Sounders star Joevin.
With no pressure coming from Jorge Villafana, or Darlington Nagbe, Jones unleashed a blast from close to 40 yards and well out on the wing. His knuckling effort headed for the top corner of Tim Howard’s net and the U.S. netminder was unable to get to it.
Jones’ effort was something of a wonder strike but the Colorado keeper may endure some sleepless nights wondering how he could be beaten from such a distance.
It was a dour group of U.S players that trooped off of the field at the half but whatever Bruce Arena said at the break seemed to resonate, with the Americans coming out strong and halving the deficit less than two minutes after play resumed.
Darlington Nagbe made a determined run before shuttling the ball to Christian Pulisic and the young U.S. star did the rest, hammering his shot to the net and raising hopes of a U.S. comeback.
The Americans pressed T&T for most of the second stanza with halftime substitute Clint Dempsey coming agonizing close to the equalizer when his skipping shot from distance eluded the keeper only clatter off of the upright.
The U.S. grew desperate as the clock ticked down but unlike in 1989 there would be no Paul Caligiuri “Shot Heard Round the World.” All those years ago the American defender ended a 40 year World Cup drought for the Yanks when he fired the U.S. into Italia ‘90, crushing this same opponent in the process.
Tonight the heartbreak is on the other foot and even if the Soca Warriors won’t be competing in Russia they will be enjoying a measure of revenge served cold, very cold.
Several USMNT careers likely ended tonight in Trinidad and Tobago with coach Bruce Arena surely leading the parade out the door. Players who have defined this team for years will surely follow. Stalwarts Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey will lead the exodus, although Deuce may hang around long enough to score the one goal he needs to eclipse Landon Donovan as the top U.S. goal scorer.
This disaster and disaster is the word for it, couldn’t have come at a worse time for U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, who was already facing challenges in his re-election bid.
But all of that is for another day. Tonight the U.S. Soccer community will be licking its wounds, asking hard questions and suffering from U.S. soccer’s biggest disappointment.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 1 1
TRI 2 0 2
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