What The Heck Happened To The USMNT?


The USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup in stunning fashion.

By Andrew Posadas

The USMNT failed to qualify for the World Cup in stunning fashion. (Courtesy of Twitter)

Last Tuesday, there was optimism surrounding the United States Men’s National Team. The squad had just come off a dominant performance against Panama, seemingly in control of its destiny to the World Cup in Russia. All that was left to punch its ticket to Moscow was an away game against Trinidad and Tobago, by far the worst team in CONCACAF. When the final whistle blew, the players were supposed to be exhilarated. The fans at home would be yelling at the top of their lungs. The U.S. would have put its name in the proverbial World Cup hat. But when the final whistle blew, none of this occurred. Instead, the men’s team and its fans were stuck on the same question: What the heck happened?

Before the last games of World Cup qualifying began that fateful Tuesday evening, the U.S. had undoubtedly the easiest challenge. In third place with 12 points, all the Stars and Stripes needed was a win or draw. Having to face last-place Trinidad and Tobago guaranteed one assumption: we couldn’t possibly lose to them. Both teams behind us, Panama and Honduras, had their hands full. Honduras faced a home game against first place Mexico. Panama, after that 4-0 shutout loss to the U.S., hosted second-place Costa Rica. Soccer analysts agreed that Panama and Honduras had little chance to win their games. Even in the case that they both won their respective games, everyone figured it’d be inconsequential as the USMNT would end up winning anyway. Once all three games began, talk became scarce. We became spectators to one of the craziest events in World Cup qualifying history.

As halftime came upon us, the score of two of the three games came as no surprise. Mexico was taking care of business, up 2-1 on Honduras. Costa Rica looked in firm control of Panama, taking a 1-0 lead after 45 minutes. The U.S. must be winning 3-0 right now against Trinidad at halftime…right? Wrong. Trinidad looked inspired in the first half. It was aggressive. It was as if Trinidad assumed the role of a team needing a win to qualify for the World Cup. The U.S. team was out of sync. A sense of urgency? There was no sign of it. The U.S. team came into Trinidad, but its motivation and desire looked to have been pulled aside at customs. At halftime the score read 2-0. The U.S. had laid the goose egg and allowed an own-goal off defender Omar Gonzalez’s shin. Trinidad had stolen all the momentum.

The second half of the three games got even more intriguing. For starters, young superstar Christian Pulisic scored two minutes into the half. The U.S. finally awoke from their slumber — game on. Unfortunately, the U.S. couldn’t continue to capitalize on an inferior opponent. Suddenly, the other two games began to take on a different shape. Honduras had scored two goals in 15 minutes, one an own-goal by Mexico. Panama tied the game at one apiece in the 53rd minute. Even if these results stood firm, the U.S. owned the tiebreaker against Panama. It would still be in the World Cup. Everything flipped on its side in the 88th minute. Honduras was desperately clinging to a one-goal lead. The U.S. still couldn’t get the tying goal against Trinidad. Panama, who had been embarrassed by the U.S., had earned redemption. A late goal against Costa Rica made it 2-1. The revelation began to fester in the mind of soccer fans: the U.S. needs to score or else its out. Ironically, the team it had previously romped would be the team to officially eliminate them. Even with five extra minutes of injury time, the final whistle blew. Everyone in a U.S. soccer jersey with the same emotions: shock and disappointment.

There will be no World Cup next year for the USMNT. Honestly, I’d go so far as to say it didn’t deserve it. CONCACAF is the easiest section of the world to qualify for the WC. The U.S. should’ve R.S.V.P.’d its qualification a month ago. To be in this position with one game left is an indictment on the inconsistency this team has shown this year. Now, Bruce Arena has resigned, and there are rumblings that president of U.S. soccer Sunil Gulati is next on the chopping block. For the next four years, the U.S. men’s soccer program will enter a state of limbo, left pondering on what could have been. For the rest of us, there will still be one question on our minds from now until the World Cup regarding our USMNT: What the heck happened?