Written by Andrew Joseph at FTW.com
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.
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