The unthinkable has happened. The United States will miss the 2018 World Cup.
Needing just a point at Trinidad and Tobago – or even a slice of luck in Panama or Honduras – the U.S. fell behind 2-0 in the first half and watched a nightmare unfold.
Honduras came from 2-1 down to beat Mexico 3-2. Panama came back from 1-0 down to draw level with Costa Rica, and then, in an instant, fired themselves into their first ever World Cup with an 88th minute goal from center back Roman Torres.
That was it. For the first time since 1986, the U.S. will miss the world’s greatest sporting event. The party will go on without them. But for soccer in this country, time has stopped.
Failure to qualify for the World Cup is cataclysmic. The result – a bloodbath unlike anything U.S. Soccer has ever seen – is forthcoming.
Bruce Arena will be gone. The international careers of a cadre of U.S. legends – Dempsey, Howard, and Beasley – will be over. Sunil Gulati, the boss for more than a decade, might not survive either.
His favorite son, Jurgen Klinsmann, lost the team to start the Hex and put the U.S. in a hole. His handpicked replacement, Arena, never quite figured out the fix.
Arena had a particularly bad night. His decision to name an unchanged team from the win over Panama on Friday backfired. The U.S. was painfully sluggish to start, and paid dearly.
Squad selection – and Omar Gonzalez over Geoff Cameron was a disaster – was one thing. More than that, though, the team didn’t come out with any kind of desire. The effort in the first half was anemic. Whether that was pressure or a lack thereof speaking, we don’t know. Not that it matters much.
This team’s failure went beyond its managers. This was one of the most talented groups of players the U.S. has ever had. It featured a transcendent player in Christian Pulisic, but it also was also stacked with World Cup veterans and emerging talent.
Those players didn’t get the job done. Trinidad came into Tuesday night 1-8 in the Hex, losers of six straight. They had nothing to play for. They barely had anyone to play in front of.
As far as qualifying closeout games go, this was a gift. The U.S. blew it.
All told, the U.S. took just three points from their five away games. They lost more Hex qualifiers than they won. They finished behind two teams – Panama and Honduras – who they beat by a combined score of 10-0 in home qualifiers.