United States captain Michael Bradley said no single result led to the national team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, while believing he and his teammates “have nobody to blame but ourselves.”
Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago left the Americans outside of the qualifying positions in the final CONCACAF Hexagonal round by a single point after 10 games.
“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,” Bradley said.
The U.S. fired Jurgen Klinsmann last November after the national team lost its first two games in the Hex — at home against Mexico and away to Costa Rica.
But Bruce Arena only managed a draw in Panama in his second game in charge in March, and ultimately managed a record of three wins, three draws and two defeats in the rest of the qualifiers.
And Bradley could not place the blame U.S.’s failure to qualify on any particular result over in the Hex.
“It’s not the easiest time to make bigger-picture analysis,” he said. “Obviously we put ourselves right behind the eight-ball with our start, losing the first two games.
“We came back in a strong way in March, even through — I mean, look, you never complain about points on the road, but there was probably more there for us in Panama.
“June, all things considered you say great, you take your four points, and then obviously given the way we started there’s not much margin for error and when you lose to Costa Rica at home then the margin is virtually gone. And it was.
“We responded in a strong way in Hondruas [a 1-1 draw], we responded in Orlando against Panama in a big win and came into the last matchday with everything in our own hands. That was all we could ask for.”
ESPN FC’s Sam Borden spoke briefly to Klinsmann by phone after Tuesday’s results, but the former U.S. coach declined to comment.
“Yes, I watched, but I don’t want to give any comments right now. It wouldn’t be right,” Klinsmann said.
Before Tuesday’s games, the U.S. appeared likely to secure at least a spot in the intercontinental playoff against Australia with a draw. But the stunning loss, combined with wins from Panama and Honduras on the final matchday, combined to leave Arena’s team on the outside looking in.
An Omar Gonzalez own goal and a spectacular strike from Alvin Jones had T&T leading 2-0 at halftime, but Christian Pulisic clawed one back for the U.S. early in the second half to give his team hope of securing at least a point from a draw. But the equalizing goal never came.
One goal proved to be the difference, as even a draw would have been enough for the U.S. to automatically qualify. And Gonzalez said his own goal, which put the U.S. behind on the night, would stay with him for the rest of his life.
“The player hit an early cross and I went to clear it. He touched it first and it hit off my shin and it happened to go right over [U.S. goalkeeper] Tim Howard,” Gonzalez said. “One of the most unlucky goals ever, I think, for myself, and it’s one that will haunt me forever.
The massive slip-up by the U.S. means the team will miss out on its first World Cup since not qualifying for the 1986 edition in Mexico.
“I never thought that I’d see this day,” Gonzalez said. “Like I said in Spanish, it’s the worst day of my career. I’m extremely sad right now; I don’t even know how to put it 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.
“When I look over at the bench and everyone was sitting down, I could just see from the looks on their faces that it wasn’t good. I just want to say sorry to the fans, all the U.S. fans that were pulling for us, that wanted to go to Russia and believed in us. We let down an entire nation today.”