An unthinkable reality: An English take on the USA’s World Cup failure

The USA aren’t going to the World Cup.

I didn’t think I’d ever have to write that sentence. I can’t believe I’m doing so now.

When the final whistle blew in Trinidad on Tuesday night, it was 3AM here in the UK. I didn’t sit through 90 torturous minutes, as the reality of the USA’s World Cup failure slowly sank in. Instead, I woke up to a melting pot of despair. The USA had lost. Panama and Honduras won.

The United States’ failure to qualify for the World Cup isn’t just devastating on a nation level, it’s global. The World Cup will be a worse tournament without the USA. It will be a worse tournament without the likes of Ghana, Chile and the Netherlands too. But the USA’s absence hurts more.

They’ve reached the Round of 16 in back-to-back tournaments. Their passion both on the field and in the stands has been fantastic to see. But most importantly, they’ve been improving.

Soccer is a big deal in the USA now. Sure, it could still get even bigger. But the fact is, people have started to fall in love with the game. The biggest reason for the surge in support is probably because of how well they battled at the 2014 World Cup. They might have gone out to Belgium, but they won a lot of people’s hearts over that day.

But those hearts were all broken with Tuesday’s result in Trinidad.

Embed from Getty ImagesThe USA have been to seven successive World Cup’s. They’ve not missed the tournament since 1986. To put it into perspective, England have missed a World Cup more recently than the USMNT, as the Three Lions failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

There is a real sense of entitlement when it comes to World Cup qualification here in England. Many fans don’t even watch many of the qualifiers. They just expect to see England at the main event. And yes, for the past 20 years, qualifying has been easy for the Three Lions. They’ve only lost four of their last 56 World Cup qualifiers.

That’s as many as the USA lost in this year’s Hexagonal alone.

But qualification for the USA should be a straightforward task too. The quality of teams across the CONCACAF region is improving, but the USA should not be finishing behind the likes of Panama and Honduras. There is no excuse for that, regardless of who is the head coach and who’s in charge of the United States Soccer Federation.

Tuesday night’s defeat to Trinidad will surely go down as the most embarrassing and heartbreaking night in US Soccer history. It sure feels like that now, and I’m sure it will still feel like that for a long time.

Taylor Twellman summed up the emotion of USA fans on ESPN after the game. He was incensed and rightly so.

But this must now act as the catalyst for change for the USA. A lot of fingers are being pointed. There are a lot of places to look for where things have gone wrong over the past couple of years. But there is no greater time to bring about large-scale changes than when staring at a reality like the USA is right now.

A new coach will surely be needed. Some players will have played their last game for the USMNT. Others will now step forward. Changes will be made as to how the USA scouts players, how it develops them. It will take time. But the USA now has time. They will not play a competitive game again now until the 2019 Gold Cup.

I might not be American, but I believe in US Soccer. I believe in MLS. And I believe that the USA’s World Cup failure will be the catalyst for change, the catalyst for a brighter future. Things can only improve from here…

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World Cup Qualifier Preview and Prediction: Panama vs USA

Competition: 2018 World Cup Qualifier – Panama vs. USA
Venue: Estadio Rommel Fernández – Tuesday, March 28 – 22:00 ET (03:00 BST) 
Match Odds: Panama 12/5 – Draw 11/5 – USA 21/20

Match Preview

Panama host the USA in a crucial World Cup qualifier on Tuesday night, with just one place and one point separating the sides going into the fourth round of fixtures in a fiercely competitive Hexagonal.

Panama are one of CONCACAF’s toughest sides to break down. They lost 1-0 to Trinidad on Friday night, with Kevin Molino’s goal the only strike they have conceded in three qualifiers so far.

They opened the Hex with a 1-0 win at Honduras and followed it up by holding Mexico to a 0-0 draw at home. Panama have never qualified for a World Cup but sit just three points off Mexico going into Tuesday’s games and know that they will remain on track if they can avoid defeat against the USA.

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That will be no easy task, given how the US men’s national team dismantled Honduras at Avaya Stadium on Friday night. The manner of the 6-0 win in Bruce Arena’s first competitive game since taking over as head coach once again in November was unexpected but incredibly impressive.

Christian Pulisic and Clint Dempsey tore the Honduran defence apart, while Michael Bradley thrived in the lone defensive-midfield role, even grabbing a goal himself as the USA sent out a statement of intent to their CONCACAF rivals.

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Few changes are expected for Tuesday’s trip to Panama City and the aim will be for the US to try and score early to force the hosts to come forward. Their approach worked perfectly against Honduras and will surely be adopted once again here.

The challenge will now be to follow that result up with another strong performance as they look to move into the top three of the Hex. Tuesday’s game will be the last qualifier until June so Arena knows the team must leave Panama with at least a point.

The USA have never lost a World Cup qualifier to Panama but have not beaten them in their last two meetings, both coming in the 2015 Gold Cup with the Panamanians beating the USMNT on penalties in the 3rd place playoff.

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Team News

MLS fans will be familiar with a number of faces in the Panama lineup on Tuesday. Former LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo will be looking to keep the US out, helped by Seattle’s stalwart Roman Torres. Toronto’s Armando Cooper will likely play alongside San Jose’s Anibal Godoy in midfield, with former Quakes teammate Alberto Quintero looking to cause trouble from out wide. Former MLS strikers Blas Perez and Gabriel Torres will be looking to make an impact, but it will likely have to come from the bench.

Bruce Arena will have to change his starting lineup as Sebastian Lletget and John Brooks are both at home dealing with injuries picked up on Friday. Jordan Morris has left the squad as his ankle problem means he can’t take to the field, so he’s returned to Seattle for treatment. Alejandro Bedoya is likely to come into the starting lineup in place of Lletget, while Jermaine Jones is available again after serving his suspension and might get a start. 

Key Points

Panama’s last five: W/L/W/W/L

USA’s last five: L/L/D/W/W

Key Stat: Panama have gone nine games without conceding more than a single goal in a match. They have only let in four goals in those nine games.

Key Player: Clint Dempsey – Fresh from scoring a hat-trick in Friday’s 6-0 demolition over Honduras, Dempsey will be looking to fire the USA to a second consecutive win in an equally important game. He has found the net in two of the last three meetings with Panama and will expect to cause their solid defence some serious problems on Tuesday.

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Score Prediction

Panama 1-1 USA – This looks set to be a much trickier contest than Friday night’s for the USMNT but they will not expect to leave Panama with anything less than a point. They have the quality to beat Panama but have been tied at 1-1 at the end of 90 minutes the last two times they have faced them and might just have to settle for the same result here in what is a vital game for both sides.

USMNT end five game winless streak with 2-0 victory over Panama

The rot has been stopped. Jurgen Klinsmann and the US Men’s National Team ended a five-game winless streak with a comfortable 2-0 victory against Panama on Sunday.

First-half goals from Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey saw the USA record their first win since a 1-0 friendly victory against the Czech Republic back in September.

Panama were far from threatening but it’s important that the USMNT got a win under their belt and the second clean-sheet in seven since the World Cup will also please Klinsmann.

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The 3-5-2 system we saw deployed in the first-half against Chile last time out was not tried again as the German coach opted to start with a 4-2-3-1 formation.

Jermaine Jones played in defence again but he looked a lot better than he did against the Chileans and that is a project that is certain to continue through 2015.

Michael Bradley started in a deeper midfield role and controlled the game well. He opened the scoring with a ridiculously good corner that looped over LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo and into the net.

Michael Bradley’s goal against Panama (via US Soccer on YouTube):

Gyasi Zardes made his first start for the USMNT and impressed throughout as the Galaxy forward thrived at StubHub Center in the USA shirt.

Zardes played a key role in the second goal of the game as he burst into the middle of the field before threading a perfect ball to Clint Dempsey. The Seattle Sounders forward then rounded Penedo before slotting the ball into an empty net.

Clint Dempsey’s goal against Panama (via US Soccer on YouTube):

Players will now return to their clubs as the new Major League Soccer season gets underway in less than a month.

One concern to take from the game is that DeAndre Yedlin limped off and headed straight down the tunnel. Spurs fans will hope that it is nothing serious as the pacey fullback has yet to make his debut for the Premier League club since completing his move in January.

The next time we see the USMNT in action will be at the end of March as Klinsmann’s side take on Denmark and Switzerland in a pair of tricky fixtures.

What did you make of the USMNT’s performance against Panama on Sunday?

International Preview and Prediction: USA vs Panama

USA vs Panama – International Friendly

Venue: StubHub Center – Sunday, February 8 – 9:00PM GMT (4:00PM ET)

Match Odds: USA 4/7 – Draw 11/4 – Panama 5/1

The US Men’s National Team take on Panama in their second friendly of the year and will look to record their first win in six after last week’s 3-2 loss to Chile made it three defeats on the bounce.

Jurgen Klinsmann tried a 3-5-2 system in that game but there was a lot to work on in terms of the formation and it will be interesting to see if he is bold enough to start with that against Panama on Sunday.

Late goals continue to haunt the USA and they conceded twice in the final 25 minutes against Chile to lose the match, despite leading 2-1 at halftime. They have taken the lead in four of their last five but have not won in any of those matches.

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Fitness is a valid excuse at this stage of the year with Major League Soccer players only just returning to action, and 20 of the 23 players in the squad play in MLS now so they are yet to reach full match fitness.

Klinsmann has hinted that the 3-5-2 system will be used again by saying: “Definitely, we want to keep developing it, because we want to use it when the moment is there and maybe we have the players for it. And therefore, it’s a card to keep working on.”

USA Predicted Lineup vs Panama

Possible USMNT lineup vs Panama (via Lineupbuilder.com)

A friendly means substitutions can help things though and Klinsmann will expect to see his side get back to winning ways against a Panama side that is set to play their first game of 2015.

The CONCACAF side are 28 places lower than the USA in the FIFA World Rankings but will be looking to kickstart 2015 in the same form as they ended last year as they only lost one of their last seven in 2014.

USA vs Panama head-to-head record: Played 14 – USA 11 – Draws 2 – Panama 1

Three MLS players have been called up to the squad for the game against the USMNT as LA Galaxy’s Jaime Penedo, FC Dallas striker Blas Perez and Colorado Rapids forward Gabriel Torres will all expect to feature.

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If he starts, Penedo will be playing in a familiar environment as LA Galaxy’s StubHub Center will host the game.

Another Galaxy player hoping to feature will be Gyasi Zardes and the young striker will hope to start after looking sharp when coming off the bench against Chile last week.

USA’s last five: D/D/L/L/L

Panama’s last five: W/W/L/W/D

Key Stat: Panama have only beaten the USA once in 14 previous meetings – a 2-1 win in the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2011.

Key Player: Gyasi Zardes – The LA Galaxy striker showed promise on his debut against Chile and will be pushing for a start. Expect him to make a difference if he is given the time.

Score Prediction: USA 3–1 Panama The USMNT to get back to winning ways with an improved performance back on home soil.

DeAndre Yedlin joins US Men’s National Team for upcoming friendlies

New Spurs arrival DeAndre Yedlin will have to wait at least another two weeks before making his first-team debut for his new club as he has been called up to the US Men’s National Team ahead of their two friendlies against Chile and Panama.

The 21-year-old right-back has been with Spurs since the start of January but has only seen 60 minutes of action for the Tottenham under-21 side so far.

Jurgen Klinsmann has decided to add the former Seattle Sounders star to his 22-man USMNT squad for the upcoming friendlies against Chile on Wednesday and Panama on Sunday, February 8.

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That means Yedlin won’t be available to play for Spurs in their League Cup semi-final against Sheffield United on Wednesday, while he will also miss Premier League games against West Brom and Arsenal.

Klinsmann has decided to call up a mixture of young players with the usual names in his 23-man squad and only nine in the camp went to the World Cup last summer.

LA Galaxy striker Gyasi Zardes has been involved in his first camp appearance for the USMNT, and 14 MLS clubs have players in the squad.

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Klinsmann will be hoping for improvement despite the rotation as an incredible 2014 for the National Team ended in poor form as they lost their last two games of the year against Colombia and the Republic of Ireland.

Yedlin is one of only two European-based players in the squad, joining 1860 Munich forward Bobby Wood and the pacey right-back will look to add to his ten caps for the USMNT in what will be a tricky game against Chile.

Full 23-man USMNT squad for upcoming friendlies:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Sean Johnson (Chicago Fire), Jon Kempin (Sporting Kansas City), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
DEFENDERS (7): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (DC United), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Jermaine Jones (New England Revolution), Perry Kitchen (DC United), Shane O’Neill (Colorado Rapids), DeAndre Yedlin (Tottenham Hotspur)
MIDFIELDERS (8): Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Mix Diskerud (New York City FC), Luis Gil (Real Salt Lake), Miguel Ibarra (Minnesota United FC), Lee Nguyen (New England Revolution), Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids), Brek Shea (Orlando City), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew SC)
FORWARDS (5): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (1860 Munich), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)