October 11 – The post mortem has just begun and will last all the way to Russia next year. Unthinkably given the weakness of their continental rivals, the United States have failed qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986 after losing to tiny Trinidad & Tobago, a hugely embarrassing setback that could have ramifications on and off the pitch.
Bruce Arena, remember, was drafted back into the fold for a second spell as national coach in order to seal qualification after Jurgen Klinsmann was sacked but a fat lot of good it did with the US now sitting at home next summer. CONCACAF is arguably the easiest regional qualifying group in world football.
Sunil Gulati, the US Soccer president spearhearding the bid to host the 2026 World Cup, is up for re-election next year. And then there is the question of ticket sales for Russia, with American fans no longer interested in taking up their allocation. And will there be a knock-on effect for FIFA’s remaining US-headquartered sponsors? Certainly the Russian companies have failed to step up in that regard.
With the US having warmed rapidly to top level football in the past few years – though it has always had a huge youth playing base – the impact of not qualifying for the World Cup in a country that is driven by its winner takes all philosophy remains to be seen.
Heading into Tuesday’s games, the USA needed just a point to all-but secure qualification. Even with a defeat the odds were in their favour but losing 2-1 to Trinidad & Tobago proved fatal as Panama and Honduras both produced shock wins.
The US started the night in the third qualifying place but somehow ended up fifth after losing 2-1 as Panama scored an 88th-minute winner against Costa Rica to reach their first ever World Cup finals. The US couldn’t even manage a playoff spot much to the chagrin of Arena.
“We failed on the day. No excuses,” he said. “We should have walked off this field with at least a point. We should not be staying at home for this World Cup and I take responsibility.”
Panama, who had lost 4-0 to the Americans last week, finished in third place with 13 points to clinch the region’s final automatic berth with Honduras advancing to the intercontinental playoff against Australia by beating Mexico 3-2.
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