COUVA, Trinidad and Tobago — The United States failed to qualify for the 2018 FIFA World Cup on Tuesday night, thanks to its own dismal play and an extraordinary confluence of events elsewhere.
A 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, the worst team in the final round of CONCACAF regional qualifying and already eliminated, opened the door for Panama and Honduras to leapfrog the Americans and push Bruce Arena’s side down into fifth place.
CONCACAF sends three teams automatically to the tournament, with a fourth going into a playoff against an Asian confederation team – in this case Australia. Victory or a tie for the USA on Tuesday would have been enough to stay in third. Instead, it suffered a remarkable collapse.
A 17th minute own goal from Omar Gonzalez, where his attempted clearance looped over goalkeeper Tim Howard, set the tone for a grim night in the small town of Couva, where the lack of local interest was reflected in a crowd of around 1,000.
Alvin Jones, who plays for Trinidadian team Western Connection, got the second on 37 minutes with a spectacular long range strike that Howard was powerless to keep out. Christian Pulisic continued his charmed run for the USA with a goal just after half-time to give the visitors hope, but on a soggy field and against an inspired opponent there was no salvaging breakthrough.
Arena threw on Clint Dempsey and Kellyn Acosta in the second half to add attacking threat, but the closest they came was when Dempsey fired against the bar after 77 minutes and Bobby Wood had a goalbound header pushed away by goalkeeper Adrian Foncette.
With Honduras beating Mexico 3-2, an 88th minute goal from Roman Torres gave Panama victory over Costa Rica and sealed the USA’s fate.