Anger. Frustration. Pain. Disappointment. Heartbreak.
There are a million ways to describe what happened to the U.S. Men’s National Team on Tuesday night. At the same time, there are no words that truly fit a nightmare that culminated in the worst night in American soccer history.
With a World Cup spot on the line following what could certainly be described as an up and down qualification run, the U.S. had fate in their hands on Tuesday night. It was all to play for, and a spot in Russia was up for grabs despite all of the setbacks and rebounds that happened throughout the cycle.
The U.S. dropped the ball. It’s that simple, even if the reasons why are so much more complicated for a team and program that sits in shock. With the loss, the team became the first U.S. team to miss a World Cup since 1986, and that fact will stain their legacies no matter which way you slice it.
“Quite honestly you’re on empty,” said Michael Bradley. “You give so much through this whole qualifying campaign to try to navigate every part of it. Even when things look bleak, make sure that we all understand that none of the stuff on the outside matters. We have a group that’s able to pull strong and pull tight in big moments and every single guy did that and when you get to the end and it ends like this, you’re empty.
“We’ve all lived moments like this before, maybe not in this context so that’s something we’re all going to have to live with,” he added. “In time, a lot of time unfortunately given the timing of everything, we’ll have our chance to respond. In the meantime, you have no choice but to stand tall and face the music.”
For a match with so much on the line, the U.S. came out flat. Tim Howard says he believes part of that was nerves while another was the discipline showed by T&T. The Soca Warriors got their early goal and then added a second, making the hole one that was too big to climb out of.
Those two goals will haunt the U.S. for some time. The first, a deflected own goal off Omar Gonzalez, gave T&T hope. The second, a long-range blast from Alvin Jones, put the U.S. too far behind to ever recover.
“I never thought I’d see this day. It’s the worst day of my career,” Gonzalez said. “I’m extremely sad right now. I don’t know how to put into words what I’m feeling. What was supposed to be a celebration is now, I don’t even know what to say. It’s terrible.
“I just want to say sorry to the fans, all of the fans that wanted to go to Russia and were pulling for us and believed in us. We let down an entire nation today.”
It remains to be seen what happens next. By the time the next World Cup rolls around, the USMNT will almost certainly look very different. Players like Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey won’t be around. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore will be 34 and 31, respectively. The team’s veteran core, one that has been in the fold for the better part of eight years, is likely done on the big stage.
For many throughout the program, that hurts. There may be brighter days on the horizon and changes may come as a result of the failures of the 2018 World Cup cycle but, for the players involved, the events of Tuesday night will remain with them for the rest of their lives.
“This is a huge blow,” Altidore said. “I don’t know how else to put it. It would be easy to walk away now and say that enough is enough. We have to use this as motivation now. Everyone will be coming after us now. That’s the way of this beast. We have to take it all and try to reverse it. It’s going to take time.”