US Stunned in Trinidad

United States out of World Cup 2018

Loses to Trinidad and Tobago in final game of CONCACAF Hexagonal

On November 19, 1999, Bob Ley, the finest journalist ESPN has ever had, delivered some wonderful news on the then new cable television network about the mens national US soccer team. Paul Caliguri had scored a miracle goal against Trinidad and Tobago to qualify the US to the World Cup in 1990 in Italy. This was the first time the US had played in soccer’s marquee event in 40 years. They had claimed the last spot in the field of 24 in a game they had to win. A loss or tie would mean that Trinidad would advance instead.

Tony Meola, John Harkes, Alexi Lalas, Tab Ramos, and the aforementioned Caliguri were some of the main players on that team. John Paul de la Camera and Seamus Malin were calling the game.

Caliguri’s goal was a beautiful display of skill. In the 30th minute, Caliguri received a pass from Tab Ramos, and faking a shot with his right foot flicked the ball onto his left side to beat his defender, and then looped a high arcing shot with his left to beat TnT’s goalie.  Tony Meola, wearing a white baseball cap to shield his eyes from the sun, was solid in goal towards the end of the game, making a couple of key stops to save the US.

Caliguri’s goal became known as the “Shot Heard Around The World” and it helped launch US soccer into the modern era. In 1994, the USA would host the World Cup and make it out of its group.

In 1995, as a precondition imposed by FIFA for granting the Cup to the US, a  new soccer league called Major League Soccer (MLS) was started. The goal was to bring a professional league to this country in order to grow the number and quality of players with the aim of keeping US Soccer competitive for years. FIFA obviously saw the US as a huge market that needed to be kickstarted and nourished. The money available in this country’s sports possessed market was simply too big to continue to ignore.

This goal was mostly met for the next 20 years as the USA would qualify for the next 5 World Cups. In 2002, behind phenoms DaMarcus Beasley and Landon Donovan, the USA beat Mexico 2-1 in the 2002 World Cup to make it to the quarter-finals, before bowing out to Germany. While 2006 was a disappointment, the USA once again made noise in 2010 by beating Portugal 3-1 in the opening game and again getting out of the group phase, where they would lose to Ghana 2-1 in a thrilling extra minute game.

In 2014, the US would again continue to make strides forward, surviving what many called the Group of Death, making it to the Final 16 before losing to Belgium. Tim Howard, the USA’s keeper would set a World Cup record with 16 saves in the overtime loss.

But all of that progress came crashing down last night. Entering the game, all the US had to do to secure their berth was to get a tie. Trinidad and Tobago was the weakest of the final 6 CONCACAF teams in Port au Prince, having amassed only 3 points in 9 games.  They were also missing one of their best players to suspension — the Loons’ own Kevin Molino.

Before the game, the US had a 13-1-3 record against this country of 1.2 million people in the World Cup qualifiers (with a 4-1-2 record on Trinidadian soil).

With everything before them, the USMNT played a listless first half and fell behind by a 2-0 scoreline. The first goal was an own goal by Omar Gonzales, an innocent error on a miskick from an equally innocent cross. This should not have been enough to derail the Americans from the World Cup.

Still in the first half, came the real shocker, a long distance shot from Alvin Jones that beat Tim Howard.

Pulisic pulled one back early in the second half. This should have been enough to push the team forward, inspired it to at least get the tying goal.  Clint Dempsey had a couple of decent chances to equalize, one off of a set piece was tipped over the goal by the Trinidadian keeper and the second, in the 78th minute, went off of the post.

Meanwhile, there was high drama at the other two games.  The chances of the USA not qualifying had been calculated at around 4-5 % since the USA had to lose and both Honduras and Panama had to win their respective games.

In Honduras, Mexico had a 2-1 lead before Honduras stormed back. The equalizer came off of a crazy shot that hit the crossbar, then hit Mexico’s keeper Memo Ochoa in the face before going in.  Honduras would add the winner late in the game in a play tantalizingly close to being offside.

In Panama, the scene was just as chaotic.  The Loons Johan Venegas had put Costa Rica up 1-0. Up to that time, and with Mexico also winning, the US was still in.  Then, in one of the most controversial calls you’ll ever see, Panama’s Blas Perez headed a ball down towards the corner of Costa Rica’s left post. As Perez fell towards the goal, he came tantalizingly close to nudging the ball into the net with his head, but it was actually cleared well off the line by the Costa Rican defender who had fallen into his own goal net area.  The goal was somehow awarded and Paname was tied and had a chance.  Why goal-line technology is not being employed at these crucial World Cup qualifying games will be a topic of debate in the upcoming months. And then, in the dying moments of the game, Panama got the game winner from Roman Torres, sending the US all the way down to fifth place.

Of the US effort, captain Michael Bradley summed it up best:

We got back to 2-1 and at that point couldn’t make a play to unlock them, couldn’t get the final pass, the final shot, the final action. You can go around in circles a million times over again. But the reality is it was all there for us, and we have nobody to blame but ourselves.”

Like Caliguri’s shot nearly 30 years ago, Jones’ long range strike was the Trinidad’s own shot heard around the world, the shot that kept the United States out of the World Cup.

 

 

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