The U.S. men’s national soccer team lost, 2-1, to Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday and failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986.
The loss was, in a word, humiliating.
“It’s devastating,” longtime MLS head coach and former USMNT assistant Curt Onalfo said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “It was just absolute silence. Just one of those times where you’re just dumbfounded. You feel like it’s not real, like it didn’t happen. Then reality quickly sets in. It’s a devastating day for soccer in our country.”
The loss – coupled with Honduras’ 3-2 win over Mexico and Panama’s 2-1 victory over Costa Rica – left the U.S. on the outside looking in for Russia 2018.
The Americans opened World Cup qualifying by losing to Mexico and Costa Rica, which cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job. Bruce Arena turned things around almost immediately for the U.S., but those early losses left little margin for error.
“It wasn’t a failure in terms of the decision,” Onalfo said of Arena replacing Klinsmann. “He was the right man for the job. The U.S. was in a very difficult circumstance starting 0-2. With the experience that Bruce has having done it before, he thought it out so brilliantly. The first four games, they’re undefeated. But the problem is, there’s just not a lot of room for error. It turned out to be a perfect storm in this game tonight and how it culminated.”
The U.S. fell behind 2-0 in the first half, with an own goal by Omar Gonzalez giving Trinidad a 1-0 lead. Christian Pulisic, 19, scored in the 47th minute to bring the U.S. within 2-1, but the Americans didn’t get closer.
For Onalfo, Tuesday’s result goes beyond Arena.
“Bruce is the most successful coach we’ve ever had in this country, and I believe in him all the way through. I think he’s just an amazing coach and have known him since I’ve bene 17 years old,” said Onalfo, 47. “But there’s a lot of things. Our league, the MLS, if you look at the two teams that qualified ahead of us – Panama and Honduras, (which) has an opportunity still to qualify – a lot of those players play in our league in Major League Soccer and we’re developing them. We have this system in MLS right now where it’s very easy to get green cards and all of a sudden you play like an American. So if you look around the league, there’s not as many American players as you would think that are starting and getting these valuable minutes.”
That is a problem.
“Whenever there’s these type of difficult circumstances where everybody’s going to look in the mirror and say, ‘Wow, we’ve got to do something, we’ve got to get better,’ there’s going to be a lot of things that need to be tweaked and changed,” Onalfo said. “In the end, hopefully this terrible, difficult, awful moment for all of us as soccer fans will turn into something that catapults us to better days ahead – because we have a bright future in soccer in this country. Our league is getting better every single year, and more and more people are watching. So we have to look ourselves in the mirror, figure out a way to help develop our players and get a bigger, better pool of players so we can qualify easily and not have to suffer what we did this time around. We have a lot of soul-searching to do.”