Tuesday, October 10, 2017 will go down as one of the most disappointing nights in United States soccer history, as the men’s national team failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. It is the first time the team has failed to do so since 1986. In fact, USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard was the only starter on the team that was even alive the last time they failed to qualify for the international tournament. Here is how it all played out.
How It Happened
The final round of the CONCACAF hexagonal qualifiers began in November 2016, as six teams began a year-long competition for four potential qualifying slots, in an attempt to advance to Russia for the world’s biggest single-sport tournament. Team USA got off to a rough start, losing their first two matches to Mexico and Costa Rica by a combined 6-1 score. After a few months off in between, USMNT rebounded with a huge 6-0 shutout victory over Honduras. The team’s next four matches leading up to last Friday’s battle with Panama resulted in one win, one loss, and three draws, leaving the stars and stripes fighting for their World Cup lives heading into the final week of qualifiers. Behind up-and-coming star Christian Pulisic, the United States was able to notch a 4-0 statement win over Panama. Everything looked like it was heading in the right direction, as they traveled down to face Trinidad & Tobago, needing a win or draw to solidify their spot in the 2018 World Cup.
The final match started in the worst way possible for USMNT, as they scored an own goal to put T&T ahead early on. The offense was unable to get going all game, and the United States ended up losing by a score of 2-1. The worst part about the failure to qualify is that T&T was in last place heading into Tuesday night’s game, having won just one of nine matches up until that point.
Final Act of Desperation
As mentioned above, USMNT needed to win or draw to notch a top-four spot in the CONCACAF hexagonal; however, even with a loss, Panama and Honduras both needed to win their final matches to jump the United States. Honduras was able to comeback from a 2-goal deficit to defeat top-seeded Mexico to win their final matchup, while Panama capitalized on what is being referred to as a “phantom goal” to defeat Costa Rica and knock team USA out of contention. As a result, the United States has been exploring the possibility of an appeal on the “phantom goal.” If the goal were to be reversed, Panama and Costa Rica would have tied, and the U.S. would advance. Nevertheless, almost everyone with expert knowledge of the sport and situation has all but declared that the U.S. has no grounds for appeal and will ultimately be missing out on next year’s World Cup.