US misses World Cup be­cause of nu­mer­ous de­fen­sive break­downs

South Florida Times - - SPORTS - By RON­ALD BLUM AP Sports Writer United States Men's Soc­cer team loss to Trinidad and Tobago elim­i­nates them from the 2018 World Cup.

COUVA, Trinidad (AP) -- Stand­ing in the sta­dium tun­nel near the U.S. locker room after the Col­lapse in Cov­ina, cap­tain Michael Bradley was asked over and over what went wrong.

How had the United States, a regional power that had made seven straight World Cup ap­pear­ances, failed to qual­ify for next year's tour­na­ment?

What led to the Amer­i­cans' stun­ning, crush­ing, al­most far­ci­cal 2-1 loss to al­ready elim­i­nated Trinidad and Tobago that caused them to tum­ble to fifth in the six-na­tion fi­nal round of the North and Cen­tral Amer­i­can and Caribbean re­gion.

A year of de­fen­sive break­downs un­der two coach­ing staffs did in the U.S., which fin­ished with three wins, three losses and four ties.

"We like to hang our hat on the fact that we out­work teams and we press teams," goal­keeper Tim Howard said. "They won a lot of sec­ond balls tonight and put us un­der pres­sure."

A re­lent­less work ethic the Amer­i­cans re­lied on for years was ab­sent too of­ten.

"You can't go and score four, five goals ev­ery game. We have to be able to be hard to play against," for­ward Jozy Alti­dore said. "We weren't hard enough to play against too many times on these nights."

In this cy­cle, the Amer­i­cans not only lost their first home qual­i­fier since 2002, they lost two home games in a qual­i­fy­ing cy­cle for the first time since 1957 - dur­ing their 40-year ab­sence from soc­cer's top event.

"When you lose the first two games and you drop points on too many days, your mar­gin for er­ror goes away, and so you know you're at the mercy of a night like this, where ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble goes against you, both here and in the two other games," Bradley said. "When we start the hex poorly, when we don't take the points that we should on some other days, then you leave open the chance on the last day this can hap­pen."

Bradley is 30 and may not play in an­other World Cup. Howard (38) and Clint Dempsey (34) will never again ap­pear on soc­cer's big­gest stage.

"If I said dis­ap­point­ment, it would be an un­der­state­ment," Howard said.

A look at what went wrong in qual­i­fy­ing for the United States:

NOV. 11, 2016

The U.S. had been 30-0-2 in qual­i­fy­ing at home since a 3-2 loss to Hon­duras at Washington's RFK Sta­dium in Septem­ber 2001 and sched­uled its opener of the hex against Mex­ico at Colum­bus, Ohio, where the Amer­i­cans had won four straight qual­i­fiers against El Tri by 2-0 scores. Miguel Layun put Mex­ico ahead in the 20th minute with a shot that de­flected off de­fender Timmy Chan­dler and past Howard. Bobby Wood tied the score in the 49th, but in the 89th minute 37-year-old Rafa Mar­quez got away from de­fender John Brooks, who was blocked by Alti­dore, and Mar­quez nod­ded in Layun's cor­ner kick for the go-ahead goal in Mex­ico's 2-1 win.

NOV. 15, 2016

Costa Rica routed the vis­it­ing United States 4-0, the Amer­i­cans' first four-goal loss in qual­i­fy­ing since 1980. Brooks' giveaway led to an at­tack cul­mi­nat­ing in Jo­han Vene­gas beat­ing Brooks to a cross for the opening goal. Chris­tian Pulisic's turnover set up Cris­tian Bolanos' goal, Brooks mis­played a loop­ing pass lead­ing to the third goal and Chan­dler was late to a cross as Joel Camp­bell scored his sec­ond of the night. Coach Jur­gen Klins­mann was fired six days later and re­placed by Bruce Arena, the U.S. coach from 1998-2006.

"There's going to need to be some ur­gency," Bradley said be­fore board­ing the team bus. "We're going to have to look col­lec­tively real hard in the mir­ror at our­selves."

MARCH 28, 2017

Four days after a 6-0 rout of Hon­duras at San Jose, Cal­i­for­nia, in the first com­pet­i­tive match of Arena's re­turn, Clint Dempsey's 39thminute goal gave the U.S. the lead at Panama City. Gabriel Gomez tied the score four min­utes later when he beat Tim Ream and Jorge Vil­lafana to a loose ball fol­low­ing a thrownin for an open 4-yard shot past Howard. The score fin­ished 1-1.

JUNE 11, 2017

Arena changed seven starters with only two off days fol­low­ing a 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago at Com­merce City, Colorado. Bradley's 40-yard chip in Mex­ico City's thin air put the U.S. ahead in the sixth minute at Es­ta­dio Azteca, but Car­los Vela equal­ized in the 23rd minute to fin­ish a field-length move, cut­ting inside of 35-year-old left back DaMar­cus Beasley for a 23-yard shot that beat goal­keeper Brad Guzan to the near post. The game ended 1-1.

SEPT. 1, 2017

Marco Urena spun around Ream, caught Howard lean­ing and beat the goal­keeper to the far post in the 30th minute. Urena dou­bled the lead in the 82nd with an 18-yard shot after David Guz­man in­ter­cepted a poor pass by Ge­off Cameron, giv­ing Costa Rica a 2-0 win at Har­ri­son, New Jer­sey.

SEPT. 5, 2017

Romell Quioto put Hon­duras ahead in the 27th minute at San Pe­dro Sula after de­fender Omar Gon­za­lez failed to clear the ball with a slide tackle and left an open shot. Wood's 85th-minute goal sal­vaged a draw that kept the Amer­i­cans in fourth place, be­hind Panama but ahead of Hon­duras on goal dif­fer­ence. "He just kind of like fell over the ball a lit­tle bit," Arena said of Gon­za­lez.

OCT. 10, 2017

A 4-0 rout of Panama days ear­lier in Or­lando, Florida, moved the Amer­i­cans back into third place and put them in po­si­tion to qual­ify with a win over Trinidad and Tobago, al­most cer­tainly with a tie (be­cause of goal dif­fer­ence) or even a de­feat if Panama failed to beat Costa Rica and Hon­duras did not de­feat Mex­ico. A loss cou­pled by ei­ther a Costa Rica or Hon­duras de­feat would mean a twogame play­off for the U.S. next month against Aus­tralia.

But 28 years after the U.S. won at Trinidad and Tobago to re­turn to the World Cup for the first time since 1950, the Soca War­riors went ahead in the 17th minute when Gon­za­lez tried to clear a cross but sent the ball off his left shin and loop­ing over Howard. Alvin Jones scored on a 35-yard shot in the 37th and while Pulisic cut the gap in the 47th, Dempsey hit a post in the 77th, and both Panama and Costa Rica ral­lied from half­time deficits to win.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF KRISTV.COM

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