From a simplified point of view, Americans have never generally taken to the sport of football. Or rather, association football (“soccer” as opposed to American football) has never been really popular in the US. That, however, has not stopped the country from having a constant presence in the FIFA World Cup, the most-followed sporting event of all (the final match of the 2006 Cup was watched by 1/9 of Earth’s population). In fact, in the recent World Cups, the American national interest in soccer has been growing more with Team USA’s participation.

But in the qualifiers for the 2018 Cup in Russia, a streak 31 years long was broken, as Team USA lost its qualifying match against Trinidad and Tobago.

Costly mistake

The US Men’s National Football Team (USMNT) suffered the greatest shock in their recent history when, playing in the final matches to cement their standing in the CONCACAF confederation, they were outplayed by the relatively low-tier team of Trinidad and Tobago, 2-1, on the latter’s home turf. This is the first time that an American contingent failed to make it to the World Cup since 1986, over three decades ago. For fans of the team back home, it was an unbelievable loss and a gigantic setback to interest in soccer within the country.

First blood of the match was self-inflicted in the seventeenth minute after USMNT’s Omar Gonzalez inadvertently scored an own goal. Things looked even grimmer when Tim Howard was out of position as Alvin Jones kicked one for Trinidad in minute 36 for a haunting 2-0 lead. Team USA’s ace player Christian Pulisic tried to rally for a counterattack right out of the gate for the second half, unfortunately, all desperate attempts to force a tie by USMNT in the closing minutes of the game came to naught, resulting in a disastrous defeat and a farewell to the World Cup 2018.

Last disaster

The Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Football (CONCACAF) is the conductor of qualifying tournaments for its member national teams, including the USMNT, to get to the FIFA World Cup. The top rankers on its standings earn automatic qualifying spots while the one following would have to go through the intercontinental soccer playoffs.

The last automatic advancement went to Panama after beating Costa Rica, while Honduras would have to take on Australia next if it wants to get in.

USMNT Coach Bruce Arena, who replaced his predecessor Jurgen Klinsmann last year, has no excuse for the failure of the team, the latest in a string of mishaps on the path to FIFA 2018 in Russia. “We should not be staying home for this World Cup,” Arena said, taking full responsibility. “We didn’t qualify for the World Cup that was my job to get the team there.”