A Very Dark Day
Team USA Blows It
Tuesday was the darkest day in United States soccer history. Dramatic? Maybe, but also true. If the United States Men’s National Team won or drew against Trinidad and Tobago, it would qualify for the 2018 World Cup. Lose, and if Honduras and Panama beat Mexico and Costa Rica, the U.S. would be out.
It should have been so easy. Trinidad and Tobago had won only one qualifier out of nine and had lost six straight. It started a lineup of backups and young players. On the other hand, Honduras and Panama faced the two best teams in the region.
But the U.S. blew it. They spent the week complaining about the field and how difficult qualifying had been—ignoring that the difficulties were self-inflicted. They started the game slow, not like a do-or-die situation. T&T scored on a fluky own goal, then doubled up with a long-range strike you would never expect from a right back who had never scored for the national team. Down 2-0 at the break, the U.S. needed help.
Things seemed to turn up after halftime. Christian Pulisic halved the deficit, and Mexico and Costa Rica both had leads. So even if the U.S. failed to equalize, it still looked like qualification was coming.
Then the wheels fell off. Honduras and Panama equalized within minutes—although Panama’s “goal” never crossed the line. Honduras took the lead on Mexico with a shot that hit the cross bar and went in off the back of the goalkeeper’s head. Then Panama scored in the final few minutes, and suddenly the U.S. had to score to survive. But, save one Clint Dempsey shot off the post, the U.S. barely threatened. And now it will miss the World Cup for the first time since 1986. To put that in perspective, I had not been born the last time the U.S. missed a World Cup.
Smarter people are already offering solutions, but I’ve been thinking about what went wrong. Much of the conversation has focused on structural problems, coaching, development, and so on. We need to improve all of those things, but I blame the players.