October 13, 2017

A Very Dark Day

By Ryan Harmanis

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.

What Happened?

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.


[read more]


Ryan Harmanis


Ryan Harmanis played for Ohio Wesleyan from 2007 to 2010 where he was a three-year captain. Following graduation, Ryan continued to follow the D-III landscape before joining D3soccer.com in 2013. He combines an analytical background with a passion for writing and the game of soccer. [see full bio]

Questions or comments?

»  E-mail D3soccer.com
Oct 13: A Very Dark Day
Oct 6: Change and the end of the red card/penalty combo
Sep 12: Ruminations returns for another season
Dec 1: Interview: Michael Coven, Brandeis men's coach
Dec 1: Interview: Ryan Souders, Calvin men's coach
Nov 30: Interview: Jon Lowery, St. Thomas men's coach
Nov 30: Interview: Josh Shapiro, Tufts men's coach
Nov 11: Missed at-large predictions and NCAA games to watch
Nov 7: Men's at-large berth analysis and predictions
Oct 28: Substitution Rules and Playing Time
Oct 21: On the home stretch: mental toughness and NCAA rankings
Sep 30: Tactics Board: Pressing, Vol. 3
Sep 23: Likes, Dislikes and Pressing Breakdowns
Sep 16: Tactics: Pressing, Vol. 1—The Rewards
Sep 9: Week 1 take-aways, week 2 anticipation
Sep 2: Welcome back to Ryan's Ruminations
Jan 19: My Final Four Thoughts for the 2015 Season
Dec 2: Interview: Iain Byrne, Oneonta St. men's coach
Dec 2: Interview: Ryan Souders, Calvin men's coach
Dec 1: Interview: Justin Serpone, Amherst men's coach
Nov 30: Interview: Dan Rothert, Loras men's coach
Nov 13: At-Large Snubs & Surprises; Must-See Matches & Upset Alerts
Nov 8: Men's at-large berth analysis and predictions
Nov 6: Playoffs, rankings, and at-large berths
Oct 30: Note to Seniors and Best Conference, Part III
Oct 23: Strength of Schedule matters a lot in NCAA Rankings
Oct 16: Best Conference, Part II: Numbers and Beyond
Oct 2: Countdown from Thirteen
Sep 25: Best conference? Tackling the great debate.
Sep 18: Favorites and Early Season Polls
Sep 11: Welcome to Ryan's Ruminations
Feb 23: Trinity's Matt Cardone on trial with Orlando City
Dec 4: Interview: Dr. Michael Giuliano, Wheaton (Ill.) head coach
Dec 4: Interview: Dr. Jay Martin, Ohio wesleyan head coach
Dec 4: Interview: Josh Shapiro, Tufts head coach
Dec 3: Interview: Iain Byrne, Oneonta St. head coach
Nov 18: The Anatomy of an upset: Rose-Hulman downs #1 Ohio Wesleyan