The momentary frustration of losing their qualifying finale might have muted the initial touchline celebrations.
Don’t worry, though. After the reality set in late Wednesday night that the US men’s national team had booked their place at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, they allowed themselves to revel and reflect on the achievement.
“I cried last time we couldn't qualify,” said US midfielder Kellyn Acosta after the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica that sealed a third-place finish in Concacaf. “I’m crying now. I’m just so happy and proud of the group that we’re finally back where we belong.”
LAFC’s Acosta was one of the few on this squad who was also in Trinidad and Tobago four-and-a-half years ago, when the US suffered a shocking 2-1 defeat and failed to make the 2018 tournament in Russia.
FC Dallas winger Paul Arriola was another. And while Matchday 14 resulted in a loss to a red-hot Costa Rica side, this time the Americans' play up to this point left Arriola and company deserved room to breathe.
Anything other than a six-goal defeat would see the Yanks right an old wrong. At age 27 and three clubs into his pro career, Arriola recognized just how precious that was.
“We talked about it before the game – you don’t really get many second chances in life … especially in professional sports,” Arriola said. “So for us, it’s a blessing. It was an opportunity for us. And, you know, I’m just so happy to be able to write a different script and continue to push this nation, this country, this national team to hopefully the next level and represent in the World Cup.”
For others like former New York Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams, the moment carried with it almost a rite of passage into footballing adulthood.
Adams was only 18 and in his first full season for the Red Bulls on that infamous night in Couva. Now 23, the RB Leipzig stalwart is sharing his prominent role in the Americans’ return to the world stage with – quite literally – his childhood peers.
“Most of these guys I’ve grown up with,” Adams said. “And the guys I didn’t grow up with playing with the youth national team system are guys that I grew up watching on TV, like DeAndre [Yedlin]. Kellyn was a role model for me when I was coming into the MLS. And to step foot out there every game with them and just battle with them, it’s a dream come true.”
For all the elation, there was also unmistakable relief that all the questions now will be about the near future rather than the increasingly distant past.
“The last four years, or I don’t even remember how long, all I’ve been asked about is what happened that night (in Couva). What it felt like. What are my emotions,” Inter Miami CF's Yedlin reflected. “And now we can really finally put that behind us. The country can finally put it behind us. And now we can really turn up and do what we need to do in this World Cup.”