Fresh off the heels of a 2017 Gold Cup Trophy, all the United States Men’s National Team needed to do was not lose to the 99th-ranked team in the world: Trinidad & Tobago.
If the United States had drawn Trinidad and Tobago, their superior goal differential would have seen them through to Russia. The loss, along with improbable wins by Panama and Honduras over the top two teams in the World Cup Qualifying Hex, Costa Rica and Mexico, doomed the Yanks to their first missed World Cup since 1986.
The loss might have been palpable if the United States did not play such an evenly-matched contest against a pugnacious Trinidad & Tobago squad. Both teams put up five shots on frame, with the U.S. holding the edge in overall shots 15-11. However, a Trinidad & Tobago side (a country with a population of just over 1.3 million people) who had nothing for which to play, took advantage of U.S. mistakes to go ahead in the match 2-0, and their defense held strong until the final whistle.
Blame abounds. Bruce Arena’s questionable subs of two midfielders–a defensive-oriented midfielder in Benny Feilhaber (who boasts five goals and three assists all season for Sporting KC) for Darlington Nagbe and 22-year-old Kellyn Acosta for defender Jorge Villafana–probably cost the United States valuable scoring chances; forwards Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood finished with six shots total, and just two on frame. Dax McCarty would have probably been a better choice to generate more offense.
There is also the question of defense. Omar Gonzalez’s own-goal to put Trinidad & Tobago up early was inexcusable; a healthy Geoff Cameron would have been the better option to start at center-back. However, USMNT Head Coach Bruce Arena went with his former L.A. Galaxy center-back, a decision that put the Soca Warriors up 1-0.
Michael Bradley deserves his fair share of the blame. Bradley, a veteran of the South African and Brazilian World Cups, has been the USMNT’s captain for their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign. He never won any trophies or accolades of note while playing at Roma or Toronto prior to 2017. Under his captaincy during the Hex, the USMNT lost their first two games to Mexico and Costa Rica by a combined score of 6-1. A win versus Honduras was quickly quelled by a draw in Panama. The U.S. drew Mexico and failed to win against Costa Rica, which put the United States in a deep hole to finish in the top three and advance to the World Cup. With the team needing veteran leadership, Bradley’s squad failed to beat Honduras away, which put the pressure on the Yanks to win their remaining two games versus the then-last-place-teams in the Hex: Panama and Trinidad & Tobago. The U.S. was either not prepared mentally or overconfident as Trinidad & Tobago took the three points and the U.S.’s spot in Russia, and that falls squarely at the feet of the captain.
Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood also failed to deliver. Both combined for a meager two shots on frame for a combined 180+ minutes on the pitch. Atrocious play from the players expected to carry the team into future glory.
Expect the dismissal of Bruce Arena soon. The heir-apparent to Jurgen Klinsmann was unable to do the job for which he was hired: improve the state of U.S. Soccer. Arena is the only coach in the previous 30 years not to qualify for the World Cup.
Also expect major changes within the ranks of U.S. Soccer. Quite simply, the U.S. has been stagnant since the 2010 World Cup, and this latest loss will redoubtably cost several U.S. Soccer executives their jobs.