Why USMNT Failed to Qualify for the World Cup

Why USMNT Failed to Qualify for the World Cup

Luke Bernstein, Staff Writer

The groups have been set, the games have been played, and the 2018 North America FIFA World Cup Qualifiers have officially drawn to a close. For the first time since 1986, the U.S. Men’s National Team will not be gracing the field at the World Cup.  After a heartbreaking 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago, the United States will be spending the summer of 2018 on the golf course and not in Russia.  In their final qualifying game, all the American team needed was a draw to advance straight to Russia.  However, they could not pull this off, due to an embarrassing own goal from veteran center back Omar Gonzalez and poor play in the midfield, which led to an amazing long range effort from Trinidad’s right back. This put the U.S. in a two to nothing hole that they could not dig out of, even with a brilliant shot from the American 19 year old man of the tournament, Christian Pulisic.  All that had to happen for the U.S. to avoid this atrocity was to win four and draw one of their 10 games in the group stage.

During qualification, the United States of America ranked 28th in the world had to play Honduras ranked 78th, Costa Rica ranked 21st, Panama ranked 60th, Mexico ranked 14th, and Trinidad ranked 99th in the world.  Even if the U.S. had just beaten Panama, Honduras, and Costa Rica, all ranked 30 or more places lower than America, then they would have placed second in the group with automatic qualification, instead of fourth.  Even though the Americans were playing teams with large amounts of grit and resolve, they still had a substantially better team that should have crushed instead of only winning 30% of their games.  Their quality of players should have helped exponentially against teams like Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras because in the combined starting elevens for both opposing countries, only one player (Levi Garcia) had played in a league similar to the American MLS, and even he had only played for little more than one half the entire season.  Besides this overall failure, there are significant factors on and off the pitch that contributed to the failure to qualify.

First off, over the ten games of qualification, the U.S. managerial staff switched between seven different center defense partnerships.  Seven different defenses over ten games is a recipe for disaster.  The U.S. never seemed to find a solid defensive pairing, which culminated in the most absurd own goal ever seen from center back Omar Gonzalez.  Further up the pitch, the center of the American midfield never seemed to click. Whether it was due to miscommunication, failure of positioning, lack of responsibility, or too much responsibility, there were no solid partnerships that could keep the center of the field under U.S. control.  While veteran midfielder Michael Bradley kept his spot through the entire process, there were five different other players through the game’s, leading to lots of misunderstanding and a need for Bradley to wrangle his younger players, which he failed to effectively do.

On the attacking side of the ball, the U.S. could never seem to find a consistent way to score, often relying on the 19 year old Pulisic to provide all firepower.  This is neither a sensible nor effective way to qualify for the most important international tournament, and it ended up costing the team.  The U.S. attack lacked a certain finishing touch in the final third with too many passes missing their mark and too many touches scrambling away from the toucher.  Finally, a reliance on an aging goalkeeping department has finally failed for the U.S. National Team.  For many years, the American soccer program had possessed a relatively lackluster defensive line which was evident this qualification cycle, but typically had a stellar goalkeeper to bail them out.  This was not the case in 2017 as both the 38 year old Tim Howard and 33 year old Brad Guzan lost their outstanding skills and seemed too slow to effectively stop a majority of the shots that went there way.  All of these critical breakdowns across the pitch contributed to the almost incomprehensible failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup by the U.S. Men’s National Team.


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