Un­der fire US misses World Cup

The Record (Troy, NY) - - SPORTS - By Ron­ald Blum

COUVA, TRINIDAD » Stand­ing in the sta­dium tun­nel near the U.S. locker room after the Col­lapse in Couva, 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 the 2002 World Cup qual­i­fy­ing rounds, 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 300-2 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-yearold 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.”

RE­BECCA BLACK­WELL — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

United States’ Matt Besler, squats on the pitch after los­ing 2-1 against Trinidad and Tobago dur­ing a 2018 World Cup qual­i­fy­ing soc­cer match  in Couva, Trinidad, Tues­day.

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