The qualification tournament, known as the Hexagonal, started out as poorly as possible for the United States. The top four teams in the group would qualify for at least a playoff spot. All the United States had to do was tie, and they would be guaranteed at least a chance against Australia for the final qualifying position.
They lost their first game of the tournament to Mexico by a score of 2-1, and then in their second game they were beaten handily by Costa Rica with a final score of 4-0. The United States came out with no energy and were simply embarrassed by Costa Rica.
After the match against Costa Rica, the United States fired head coach Jürgen Klinsmann and hired former head coach Bruce Arena to try and revitalize the U.S. team, something he has done once before. Arena first coached the National Team in 1998 and was the most successful coach in the team’s history.
While Arena was coach, the team was ranked as high as fourth in the world, but he was fired after a lackluster performance in the 2006 World Cup. The hope was that he could work the same magic to turn the team around this time as well.
Initially, the change seemed to pay off, as the United States turned their -5 goal differential into a +1 differential in just one game with a 6-0 win over Honduras.
After a tie against Panama and a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, the team was all set up to cruise to an easy World Cup qualification. They followed those games up with a tie against Mexico, in a hostile road environment.
At that point there was a clear path for the United States to lock up their World Cup qualification, but they lost their footing along the way.
The team proceeded to lose their next game to Costa Rica 2-0, and then they tied against Honduras, which pushed them into a very difficult spot. They had to win both of their two remaining games, against Panama and Trinidad and Tobago, in order to qualify.
They took care of the first step, beating Panama 4-0, but faltered in their last qualification game against Trinidad and Tobago. Despite how much was riding on this game, the United States came out flat.
They surrendered a goal just 17 minutes in. They gave up another just 20 minutes later to dig themselves into a deep hole that they could not escape from, despite many second half opportunities.
While the U.S. were losing, Panama secured a win against Costa Rica with an 88th minute goal.
A 3-2 Honduras win over Mexico meant the United States would not get a chance to represent their country in the World Cup.
There were some good moments for the United States: Midfielder Christian Pulisic led all of the qualifying tournament players with five goals. Even with his age, Clint Dempsey performed well, scoring four goals.
Even with a couple stand-out performances, the loss to Trinidad and Tobago was the cherry on top of an extremely embarrassing performance by the team.
There were many more bad performances than good from the U.S. team, and because of the lackluster showing, you will not be able to cheer on the United States in the 2018 World Cup. The team will have to wait until the 2020 Olympics for redemption.
Some big changes need to be made to the United States National team in light of this humiliating lapse. Many people want to blame the leadership for not preparing the players, but it goes deeper than that.
Though Klinsmann and Arena can definitely be blamed, at the end of the day it boils down to the players having to go out there and play with passion. Hopefully when the United States players watch the World Cup from home, it will keep them from taking their bid to the World Cup for granted.
This should also signal that the U.S. should move towards the future with their roster. While having people like Dempsey and Tim Howard on the team provides a veteran presence for the young players on the team, it obviously is not working. It’s time to bring in young talent to reenergize a flat-footed roster.