Tuesday, October 10 will go down as a somber day in U.S. soccer history. In a “win and you’re in” scenario, the Men’s National Team had one job — beat Trinidad and Tobago and solidify a spot in the Russian-hosted 2018 World Cup. The USMNT actually didn’t even have to win, all they needed to do was draw against the small island nation. However, just about everything went wrong.
Winning was obviously the priority for the United States, but some other unlikely scenarios also had to transpire in order for the U.S. to fail to advance. Both Honduras and Panama would have to win their own games, which took place at home against formidable opponents in Mexico and Costa Rica respectively. Then, both of these things actually happened, putting the United States’ fate in their own hands.
At the time, being matched up against Trinidad and Tobago seemed like a best-case scenario. Occupying the last spot in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal round, they had already been eliminated from World Cup qualification, and could do nothing but play spoiler in their final game. And so they did.
The Americans fell behind early, and no thanks to their own play. In the 17th minute, defender Omar Gonzalez mis-hit a crossing pass that dropped in over U.S. goaltender Tim Howard’s head, putting the Yankees down one.
— Sporting News (@sportingnews) October 11, 2017
Not only 20 minutes later, Trinidad and Tobago’s Alvin Jones delivered an impressive strike from 37 yards away to double the home side’s lead. Even worse, the Soca Warriors were using their transition speed to keep the USMNT on their heels, and the Americans appeared lethargic to say the least. The necessary urgency that needed to be on display was clearly not present.
Things appeared to be looking up when the second half began, as up-and-coming prodigy Christian Pulisic nailed home a sweet score to cut the lead in half. Manager Bruce Arena also elected to substitute Clint Dempsey in for Paul Arriola, whose performance was lackluster in the first 45 minutes. However, a similar story began to unfurl for U.S. soccer fans.
With everything to gain and even more to lose, the United States pressed Trinidad and Tobago keeper Adrian Foncette, but to no avail. T&T continued to press the Americans on the counter-attack, and Tim Howard put forth his best effort to keep the game at bay, making a nice save against opposing striker Shahdon Winchester midway through the second half.
But perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game was the lack of productivity on the offensive side for the United States. Jozy Altidore sailed a clear shot on goal over the bar early in the game, and Dempsey struck the post in the 77th minute, which was about as close as the Yanks got to getting another goal by Foncette. Bobby Wood and substitute Benny Feilhaber also had chances to head the ball in off of crosses, but neither was successful.