The USA is out of the World Cup.
It took a phantom goal credited to Gabriel Torres for Panama to beat Costa Rica, 2-1, and a goal off the crossbar and back of Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa‘s head for Honduras to beat Mexico, 3-2, but that is all irrelevant.
The USA didn’t deserve to go to the World Cup.
It couldn’t even tie Trinidad & Tobago.
T&T — loser of six straight Hexagonal games, loser of seven straight games overall and winless in its previous nine games — beat the USA, 2-1.
Arena had one job … You could see from the first moments of the game that Bruce Arena didn’t like how things were going. He started pacing from one edge of the technical area to the other.
He had gone against everything he had done in the last two away games and he didn’t make wholesale changes. In fact, he played the same 11 players who beat Panama, 4-0, on Friday. They could have been impostors.
The only other time the USA played the same 10 field players — Brad Guzanreplaced the injured Tim Howard in goal — was for the first away game of the Hex at Costa Rica, which it lost, 4-0.
It cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job 11 months ago. Just like Tuesday’s loss has cost Arena his job.
As he said afterward, Arena was hired to take the USA to the World Cup. He had one job, and he failed.
Would American soccer be better off if the USA didn’t qualify for the World Cup? That seemed like an absurd notion when the question was raised in September. We’ll know now.
Price of not qualifying. The cost of failing to qualify for the World Cup will be very high:
— Viewers for the U.S. games at the 2014 World Cup were 10 times most audiences for the U.S. games in qualifying and 100 times most audiences for MLS games on national television.
Brazil was a special case with favorable time zones, which Russia won’t have, so audiences would have been down, but Fox Sports, which will be broadcasting its first men’s World Cup in 2018, will pay a heavy price.
Moreover, soccer isn’t so popular that it can afford to miss an opportunity to grow the support, especially among young fans in their late teens and early 20s who are such huge soccer fans.
— MLS will find itself in an awkward position trying to sell the league next summer. For all the conflicts the World Cup causes the summer league, that’s a small price for not being able to piggy-back on the World Cup.
Promoting all the MLS players who will be playing in the tournament won’t count. (The four goals Panama and Honduras scored on Tuesday — all but the Ochoa own goal — were scored by a current or former MLS players.)
— Missing the 2018 World Cup could not come at a worst time as soccer has finally produced its first superstar to show off to the American public.
At the age of 19, Christian Pulisic finished as the leading scorer in the Hexagonal and was the big reason the USA finished with the best offense in the Hex. (The USA’s downfall was with its backline and again conceding bad goals.)
— Missing out also comes as the most promising generation of young stars has started breaking through: Tyler Adams, Jonathan Gonzalez and Weston McKennie. It’s hard to have imagined, if the USA had qualified, that Arena would not have taken them to Russia.
— Missing out will likely mean the end of the World Cup dreams for a lot of players. Only four U.S. players who started in Couva will be under 30 in 2022: DeAndre Yedlin, Paul Arriola, Bobby Wood and Pulisic.
Back to work. The 25 U.S. players whom Arena took to Couva will have to scatter around the world and get back to work quickly. They have jobs to do. Michael Orozco will be the first up: Tijuana plays at home on Friday night.
It’s hard to know when the national team will get back to work. There’s no official competition for the USA for the next 20 months. In the meantime, November friendlies? January camp? March friendlies? Pre-World Cup friendlies? They all seem so pointless at the moment, but decisions will have to be made one way or another.
Gulati in hot seat. U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati said after the game preparations for qualifying for the 2022 World Cup will begin almost immediately.
The most important decision will be who will coach the team. That decision becomes complicated as the man will have to make that decision is Gulati, who will have to decide whether he will run as president of U.S. Soccer for a fourth and last term.
Steve Gans and Paul Lapointe, New Englanders like Gulati, have already announced their intentions on running. Before Tuesday night, Gulati was still the heavy favorite to win re-election. After Couva, not so much.
Irony of the Hex. Gulati re-hired Jurgen Klinsmann before the 2014 World Cup, then fired him two games into the Hex, replacing him with Arena. Those decisions alone won’t be his downfall, but there is a certain irony to what happened in this Hex.
For years, the USA coasted through the Hex as rivals self-destructed, replacing their coaches at the slightest sign of trouble. This time, the four Concacaf teams that finished ahead of the USA all stuck with their coaches through thick and thin.
Luck runs out. It’s a good thing that the Hex is probably over — Concacaf wants to try to a different format for the final round in 2022 before the field is expanded in 2026 — because the USA’s luck ran out in this Hex.
There were signs of trouble beginning with the opening loss to Mexico in Columbus. After four straight 2-0 wins, it was inevitable that the USA’s luck ran out.
The USA had dominated at home in the Hex — losing only once in the previous five tournaments — but lost twice this time. It had always stolen a win or two on the road in past tournaments. This time, it didn’t win a single away game.
That wouldn’t have even mattered. All the USA needed was a tie at Trinidad & Tobago to qualify for the World Cup.
Long odds against failing to qualify. There was a 1 in 27 chance of the USA being eliminated on Tuesday. Not only did it have to lose but Panama and Honduras both had to win.
To their credit, both the Canaleros and Catrachos overcame setbacks over the weekend in their previous games, but they came back from halftime deficits on Tuesday and won.
Bravo to Panama, headed to its first World Cup, and Honduras, headed to a playoff against Australia in November.
For the USA, it will be time to begin to pick up the pieces so it doesn’t find itself in the same position again.