US goalkeeper Tim Howard blames World Cup ouster on nerves, T&T game plan

It's the question that every member of the US national team was grappling with in the aftermath of the 2-1 loss to Trinidad & Tobago, which ultimately cost them a place in the 2018 FIFA World Cup which will be held in Russia beginning next June: What went wrong?

"A lot of things [went wrong]," veteran US goalkeeper Tim Howard told a scrum of reporters in Port of Spain after the match. "They [Trinidad & Tobago] sat back, which we’ve had trouble with in the past. It was tough to break them down. We weren’t good enough with the ball. An unfortunate goal [Omar Gonzalez own goal] and what felt like a wonder strike. Hats off to them.

"They’re certainly a different Trinidad team than we’ve faced. And they play a different brand of football. A lot of things went wrong tonight. We were second to a lot of balls. [We] didn't hold on to enough balls going forward and ultimately we had to chase the game from the beginning, which is never a good thing.”

Howard, who started the match, praised Trinidad & Tobago's game plan, noting how Soca Warriors head coach Dennis Lawrence "coaches a team in the mold of Roberto Martinez" (ex-Everton and current Belgium head coach) with a team that shifts and overloads as a unit.

But on two separate occasions during his postgame media comments, Howard also pointed out how he felt the US team may have suffered from nerves. 

"Nerves play into it," the Colorado Rapids netminder said. "We’d like to hang our hat on the fact that we outwork teams and we press teams and they [Trinidad & Tobago] won a lot of second balls tonight and put us under pressure.

"We were under no illusions. Tonight was a game where we couldn’t have any slip-ups and quite frankly after November 2016 [losses to Mexico and Costa Rica] we had an eight-game Hex where we had to play flawlessly. That's one hell of an uphill battle for anybody. We left ourselves no room for error and we paid for it."

But Howard is hopeful that the disappointment of missing out on a World Cup can at least serve as a wakeup call.

"Every time you have a setback you have to look at things, reevaluate and get better and as a program we have to get better," Howard said. "This Hex proved that. There are some good teams on the up-and-up and we have our work cut out for us."

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