The dream of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup finally fell apart for the U.S on Tuesday night with their loss to Trinidad and Tobago and wins for Panama and Honduras. It was a fitting end to a woebegone campaign that saw the team win only three games of ten in the final round of the Hexagonal in the CONCACAF, the most forgiving of the regional groups.
While the result was surprising to many coming off a strong showing against Panama Friday, it was no surprise to fans who have been paying attention.
As was the norm through most of qualifying, the Americans had no answer for the concentrated and organized defensive front presented by the opposition. The defense continued its sloppy play, with Tim Howard doing most of the work despite the fact that he is nearing 40. On the other side of the ball, the only offensive production for the Americans came from 19 year old Christian Pulisic. Contrary to what Bruce Arena seems to believe, one kid prodigy cannot score all the goals, or make up for all your team's deficiencies, though God knows Pulisic tried.
Much has and will be written in the wake of this blow to all of American soccer about lack of leadership, mediocrity of the players, and the anger and embarrassment of everyone involved with U.S. Soccer. And all that should be written, because this is an organization which deflects criticism rather than acknowledging it.
But it all boils down to one thing: complacency. The president of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, was complacent in keeping Klinsmann for far too long. Bruce Arena was complacent in his refusal to make any meaningful changes in his approach to compensate for deficiencies throughout qualifying. And, most importantly, the players were complacent in their belief that they would qualify against a T&T team that had long since been eliminated. So much so, in fact, that the opposing players used it as motivation.
I would like to believe that that loss will kickstart change for the better in U.S. Soccer, but the postgame press conference did not breed confidence. Who knows? They have plenty of time for introspection between now and the start of the Qatar cycle. In the meantime, let's hope the women don't follow in the men's footsteps