Editorial (October 11, 2017) – The United States Men’s National Team were eliminated from 2018 World Cup contention last night. They lost 2-1 at Trinidad and Tobago on the CONCACAF Hexagonal matchday 10.
Combined with the other results, Panama has clinched the third and last automatic bid, their first in history. Honduras clinched the fourth spot, and will be in a playoff with Australia. The United States have finished fifth out of six teams in the Hexagonal.
CONCACAF Hexagonal Matchday 10: The CONCACAF Madness That Eliminated The USMNT
Let’s break down the madness that unfolded last night and the events that cost the United States a trip to Russia next summer.
Crazy Bounces In San Pedro Sula:
Honduras defeated Mexico at home by a score of 3-2. Mexico was up at half time, but Honduras ultimately won on two plays in the second half.
Alberth Elis created the second goal after Romell Quioto found him in on goal. The ball went off the cross bar, bounced off the back of Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s head and in for an own goal. That made it 2-2.
Quioto scored the winner in the 60th minute getting in behind the Mexican backline. There wasn’t a definitive angle to show whether he was onside or not. Still, Quioto was able to thread the ball through two defenders and a diving Ochoa. Two crazy and very CONCACAF bounces gave Honduras the come from behind victory over Mexico.
CONCACAF Reffing In Panama:
Like Honduras, Panama won their match 2-1 with a second half comeback over Costa Rica. Los Ticos were up 1-0 at half time.
A goal was awarded to Blas Perez on a corner in the 54th minute. The replay clearly shows that the ball bounced around in the box before landing right against the post. A Costa Rican defender clears the ball from on the line, off Perez’s head and out of bounce. The officials counted it, and the phantom goal made it 1-1. Roman Torres scored in stoppage time to lift Panama to a 2-1 victory.
MLS fans have had some harsh criticisms for VAR this season. VAR (and goal line technology for that matter) would have both prevented this goal from standing. The officials were looking through several bodies to try and make this call. The ball clearly never crossed the line. That call got Panama back in the game and they ultimately came back to win.
A Calamity Of Errors And Bad Bounces:
While these crackers were unfolding on the continent, the United States were playing at Trinidad and Tobago.
The preparation for this match got things off to a bad start. The Yanks showed up on Monday to a flooded pitch that limited their training capabilities. The field was ultimately was ready to go for the game, though a pump could be heard on the broadcast.
This game was a calamity of errors for the United States. Omar Gonzalez committed an own goal early in the first half, in what he said was the lowest moment of his career. Later in the half, Alvin Jones scored on a blast from 40 yards out. On both goals, Goalkeeper Tim Howard was just out of reach of the ball. One could argue he should have saved both.
Beyond the mistakes on the goals, the Americans were lethargic and disorganized in the attack. Bruce Arena said before the game against Panama that he hadn’t “spent one second” in preparing for this game. It looked like the whole team hadn’t prepared for the match even after Friday. The attack was disjointed. There was no link up play. Once they got numbers and the ball into the final third, they didn’t know what to do.
Pulisic scored a nice goal to start the second half, but the rest of the game was missed chance after missed chance. Clint Dempsey came off the bench and had several good opportunities, including one that went off the post. Bobby Wood nearly scored in the closing minutes on a header. Soca Warriors Goalkeeper Adrian Foncette made several spectacular saves.
Ultimately, it was a loss and a profoundly disappointing performance. Defensive errors led costly goals. A poor game plan (a lack of a game plan maybe?) led to a wasted first half. The effort in the dying moments was too little too late. The USMNT controlled their own fate and failed.
The Climatically Disappointing Timing:
For a neutral watching this game on three screens, this was as climactic and crazy of CONCACAF Hexagonal matchday 10 decision day as one could experience. At halftime of every game, the United States were still in third place.
Then Honduras tied the game against Mexico. The Americans were still ok. Pulisic scored, so perhaps they were going to mount a comeback. With just a draw in Trinidad, Honduras and Panama had near impossible goal differentials to make up. Then Honduras took the lead and Panama tied it up. The Yanks were still in fourth.
They started creating a few chances. Dempsey almost scored on a free kick. Wood and Jozy Altidore were getting chances. They just needed a goal. Then Panama scored in the 88th minute and stoppage time became Doomsday for the United States. They came up short in a sequence where every goal led to a twist of emotions and an eruption of passion for the fans in Honduras and Panama.
Poetic Justice For The Little Guys:
For those of you who are new to the game of soccer, the United States has history with both Panama and Trinidad and Tobago. Paul Caligiuri scored one of the most famous goals in USMNT history in 1989 in a must win game in Trinidad. The ‘Shot Heard Round The World’ got the Americans to the 1990 World Cup, their first in 40 years. It also eliminated Trinidad from the World Cup.
More recently, the United States ended the World Cup dreams for Panama just last cycle. The Americans had already qualified for Brazil 2014 and played their last match of the Hex in Panama City. Down a goal, the United States mounted a stoppage time comeback behind Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson. The two goals eliminated Panama from potentially making their first World Cup ever. It also gave Mexico a lifeline, which pundits did not forget. Zusi even earned the nickname San Zusi among El Tri fans.
Soccer has a funny way of giving opportunities for redemption.
It was almost poetic how Trinidad was able to exorcise their Caligiuri demons last night. They started a very inexperienced squad that had no hope of winning. They stunned a superior opponent who might have been taking their World Cup qualification for granted. The game winner by Jones was arguably just as spectacular as Caligiuri’s goal from 28 years ago.
Across the Caribbean, Panama similarly got redemption. They scored near the end of the match to flip the tables. Just last Friday, the team embarrassingly lost to the United States 4-0 in what was called the biggest Panamanian sporting event in history. Just like the last World Cup cycle, it looked like the Americans were Panama’s bogyman. They delivered an apparent dagger to their hearts.
Then at home, against an opponent who had nothing to pay for, they got it done. Another team gave them a lifeline. They made it count. Now, four years after players left Estadio Rommel Fernandez in tears, the greatest generation in Panamanian Football history will be going to the World Cup.