Needing a win or a draw against Trinidad & Tobago to finish in the top four of the Hexagonal standings and earn at least a playoff spot against Australia, the U.S. failed to capitalize. Instead, Panama and Honduras held down the third and fourth spots, knocking the U.S. into fifth and out of qualifying.
The U.S. team’s streak of seven straight World Cup appearances has ended. For the first time since 1986, the Stars and Stripes will be watching soccer’s biggest tournament from home.
Bruce Arena’s side entered the fifth-round finale riding high following a 4-0 victory over Panama last Friday. The much-needed home win gave the U.S. a major edge in goal differential over Panama and Honduras, and all they needed was a win or draw against the last-place Soca Warriors – who were playing only for pride – to lock down a spot in Russia.
If either Honduras or Panama lost or drew, the U.S. would have qualified or at least remained alive. Mexico did the Americans no favor, losing 3-2 to Honduras. Costa Rica was holding onto a draw against Panama, until Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres knocked in the game-winning goal in the 88th minute.
Trinidad & Tobago came out on fire, opening up a shocking two-goal lead in the first half. It appeared the U.S. was going to rally after halftime, as Christian Pulisic slotted home a goal in the 47th minute, but the home side desperately held on until the final minutes.
It will be four years until the U.S. has a chance to enter the global stage again. By that time, many of the names U.S. fans have grown accustomed to will have been long retired, including Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, and a new generation will need to get the USMNT back on track.