The United States found their World Cup dreams dashed on Tuesday night in Ato Bolden Stadium as the United States Men’s National Team lost 2-1 to Trinidad & Tobago while Panama beat Costa Rica 2-1 and Honduras beat Mexico 3-2. The combination of results means the U.S. will not qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
The U.S. looked lackadaisical in the first half against Trinidad & Tobago, giving up an Omar Gonzalez own goal in the 17th minute before Alvin Jones scored a stunner in the 37th minute to give the home side a lead that they would retain for the rest of the match.
While the United States looked more aggressive in the second half with Clint Dempsey coming on for Paul Arriola and scoring an early second half goal to bridge the gap, the attacking core failed to create dangerous chances in the final third and will not be watching the World Cup in Russia from their couches as a result.
While much of the blame will sit on the shoulders of those on the field for the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers, it is the organization as a whole who is to blame for this embarrassment as a footballing nation.
After the dismissal of Jurgen Klinsmann, one that was justified by a failure to reach lofty expectations, the hiring of Bruce Arena seemed illogical, a step backwards in ideology and football tactics that was only briefly justified after a 6-0 win over Honduras in San Jose, California.
Under Klinsmann the United States struggled to find their identity and the hiring of Arena brought no more clarity of said identity to the side. Arena has seemed to favor domestic players over internationals in the recent qualifiers regardless of their individual quality and has failed to develop an identity for the American style of football in his second tenure as coach of the national team.
Arena has been fortunate as a national team coach to have the talent of first Landon Donovan and now Christian Pulisic to hide his tactical shortcomings on the international level. If anything, this qualifying cycle has highlighted his inability to prepare his players for a quality opponent. Losing at home to both Mexico and Costa Rica combined with the inability to produce results on the road has proven that Arena is not the answer for success on the international stage.
With dreams of Russia now lost, the U.S. Soccer Federation needs to look towards new leadership of the men’s program. Bruce Arena should return to coaching at the club level, Sunil Gulati should take a long look in the mirror and decide if he is the right person to head US Soccer, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and Tim Howard will all soon be giving way to a new guard of U.S. players striving to compete in Qatar come 2022.
Christian Pulisic has proven to be a player the United States can build around. DeAndre Yedlin and Bobby Wood have shown they have the talent at a young age to be regulars in the starting lineup.
Where next does the American growth come from? Will it be domestic players such as Christian Roldan and Kellyn Acosta who have shown promise in their caps with the national side? Will it come from the likes of Eric Lichaj and John Brooks who have proven themselves on an international level? How will the youth development of U.S. Soccer adapt to ensure the success of future senior teams on the global stage?
All of these questions will desperately need to be answered in the coming months as the USMNT rebuild following their failure in this World Cup qualifying cycle. In two years this team will be competing to defend their Gold Cup title and for the sake of American soccer, there best be a new core of players taking the pitch for the Red, White, and Blue.