U.S. Soccer can now only hope to influence the outcome of the 2018 World Cup in Russia via social media. The United States men's national team will not be competing on the field, having failed to qualify for the quadrennial tournament for the first time since 1986.
With a 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday night and unfriendly results in other qualifying matchups, the U.S. clinched a spot on the sideline. The U.S. has appeared in every World Cup since 1990, an appearance streak that had been matched by only six nations.
The debate about why the U.S. missed the World Cup will include discussions on Bruce Arena’s lineups, Sunil Gillati’s stewardship of US Soccer, and the viability of homegrown talents like Christian Pulisic on the international stage. But before joining those conversations about why this happened, many USMNT fans will have questions about how this happened.
As a reminder, the U.S. was one of six teams in the final round of CONCACAF (Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) qualifying — often referred to as the Hexagonal or “Hex.” It was joined by Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras, Panama, and Trinidad and Tobago. The top three teams from the Hex advance directly into the field of 32 for the World Cup. The fourth-place team faces a team from the Asian Football Confederation with another berth on the line.
In control of their destiny and with multiple qualifying scenarios entering their 10th and final Hex match, the U.S. men sealed fifth place with a loss in conjunction with wins by Panama and Honduras. Here is a look back at the U.S. qualifying results that left them on the outside looking in:
Nov. 11, 2016: USA 1, Mexico 2
There was no Dos a Cero for the U.S. in Columbus this time around. Mexico took all three points from the team’s opening match in the final qualifying round with a 2-1 win. A Bobby Wood equalizer in the 49th minute seemed enough to earn the American hosts a point, but a Rafael Marquez header at the near post in the 89th minute lifted Mexico to a last-gasp victory.
Nov. 15, 2016: Costa Rica 4, USA 0
Playing on the road in San Jose, the U.S. held on for the first 44 minutes. But from there, it was all Ticos. Costa Rica attacker Johan Venegas beat U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan with a header at the near post just before halftime. In the second half, Costa Rica piled on three more goals to end the USMNT’s 2016 campaign on a low note.
With zero points through two qualifying matches, the U.S parted ways with manager Jurgen Klinsmann in the aftermath of the Costa Rica defeat.
March 24, 2017: USA 6, Honduras 0
With Bruce Arena returned to the manager post for a second stint, the U.S. roared back into Hex contention with a dominant showing in San Jose, Calif. Clint Dempsey’s hat trick and a dazzling attacking display from Pulisic lifted the U.S. into fourth place in the CONCACAF standings.
March 28, 2017: Panama 1, USA 1
Dempsey and Pulisic ensured the U.S. remained in contention four days later. The teenager set up his veteran teammate for their side’s lone goal in a tense 1-1 draw in Panama City. The hosts answered Dempsey’s 39th-minute goal with an equalizer after a long throw went uncleared in the U.S. penalty area in the 43rd minute. The U.S. remained in fourth place after the result.
June 8, 2017: USA 2, Trinidad and Tobago 0
The Pulisic Show continued with a brace from the precocious product of Hershey, Pa. The goals game within a 10-minute span in the second half and were all the U.S. needed for three points in Colorado. The result moved the U.S. up to third place.
June 11, 2017: Mexico 1, USA 1
A long-range chip from midfielder Michael Bradley in the sixth minute earned the U.S. a 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca. Carlos Vela leveled for El Tri in the 23rd minute, moments after Bobby Wood nearly doubled the U.S. lead. The result kept the Americans in third place in the CONCACAF standings.
Sept. 1, 2017: USA 0, Costa Rica 2
Outmuscled and outclassed at Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, the U.S. dropped a key match to Costa Rica. Marco Ureña scored before and after the intermission for the visitors and Keylor Navas ensured all the U.S. had to show for itself was penalty shouts and regrets. The 2-0 defeat halted the momentum of Arena’s return and again put the U.S. at risk of missing out on the World Cup.
Sept. 5, 2017: Honduras 1, USA 1
Playing a broiling matinee in San Pedro Sula, the U.S. earned a dramatic point through a Bobby Wood goal in the 85th minute. The hosts had taken a 27th-minute lead after Romell Quioto evaded a sliding challenge from Omar Gonzalez before slotting past Guzan. The result kept the U.S. in contention for a berth, albeit precariously in fourth place.
Oct. 6, 2017: USA 4, Panama 0
A dream start from Pulisic put the U.S. in control early and a brace from Jozy Altidore as well as another qualifying goal from Wood meant this 4-0 triumph had a celebratory vibe in Orlando. The dynamic showing moved the U.S. ahead of Panama into third place.
Oct. 10, 2017: Trinidad and Tobago 2, USA 1
With a World Cup berth within its grasp, Bruce Arena’s U.S. squad fell behind Trinidad & Tobago in the 17th minute thanks to an own goal by Omar Gonzalez.
The hosts doubled that lead through an Alvin Jones rocket from distance in the 37th minute.
Pulisic would pull one back for the visiting Americans in the 47th minute, but the strike was too little, too late.
Entering today, SPI projected a 3% chance the U.S. men's soccer team finished 5th.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 11, 2017