The analysis and second-guessing began before the U.S. national team had even left the tiny stadium in central Trinidad that forever will be linked to one of the most epic failures in American soccer history.
The U.S. entered the final day of World Cup qualifying Tuesday in control of its destiny, needing only a tie against Trinidad and Tobago to advance to an eighth consecutive World Cup. Instead, it was outplayed, outhustled and outclassed by the 99th-ranked team in the world.
And when Panama and Honduras won their qualifiers moments later, the Americans’ fate was sealed and a generation of men’s soccer progress in the U.S. was stalled: The national team was out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
“If you don’t look at yourself after this, I think you’re pretty [messed] up in the head,” forward Jozy Altidore said.
“What was supposed to be a celebration is now. … I don’t even know what to say. Terrible,” said defender Omar Gonzalez, whose own goal played a big part in the 2-1 loss.
Although the 10-game qualifying campaign seemed snakebit for the U.S. from the beginning, Tuesday’s game was a disaster. Coach Bruce Arena, who had rotated the lineup between games throughout qualifying, used the same 11 starters as five days earlier in a U.S. victory over Panama.
And the team came out dead-legged and flat, falling behind 2-0 before it even had a shot on goal.
Trinidad and Tobago’s game plan was better, too, clogging the midfield and denying the U.S. the space it had exploited so well against Panama.
“It was a night where everything went wrong,” Michael Bradley said.
“You can go around in circles a million times, but the reality is that it was all there for us and we have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
And the ripples, and blame, for Tuesday’s loss extend far beyond the playing field.
Not playing in the World Cup could cost U.S. Soccer…