The US national team put on a depressing display in Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday night, breaking hearts nationwide with a galling 2-1 loss that left them without a World Cup finals berth for the first time since 1986.
The visitors looked like soccer zombies in the opening frame, operating with a maddening lack of intensity and no discernible organization. Two gut-punch goal leaks later, and the USMNT were in a do-or-die position that has so often seen them rise to the rally occasion over the past few decades. There would be no such excitement on this dreary, utterly shocking night.
Tim Howard (2)
Though the Colorado Rapids netminder made a couple of second-half stops to keep the US in it for the needed result, in the end, there was no coming back from how poorly he played in the first half. Incredibly clumsy footwork kept Howard from stopping the own goal, and there is absolutely no reason to be left flailing so wildly at a 40-yard shot. If that wasn't enough, he also committed a couple of bad spills that nearly cost the team.
DeAndre Yedlin (4.5)
The Newcastle right back had several decent moments supporting the attack, but he was caught up by his own mistakes too often, and also oddly troubled by counterattack runners.
Omar Gonzalez (2)
A sloppy clearance attempt ended up in the back of the net to put the US behind early, and Gonzalez was then fortunate not to give up a spot kick moments later. He also repeatedly misfired on passes near midfield.
Matt Besler (6)
The Sporting KC defender is one of the few US players who should come out of this game unscathed. Besler largely did his duty at the back and bravely pushed up to support possession while the team was chasing a goal in the second half.
Jorge Villafana (3.5)
Whle the Santos Laguna left back made no great mistakes in his own end, he was a major letdown on the ball. Villafana was far less useful in the build than usual and his crosses floated awry on the few occasions he did gain a good position on the overlap.
Michael Bradley (4)
There is plenty to be said about leaving the captain to cover too much ground, but it's still quite telling that he failed to manage even a single defensive stop in the middle of the field. Following a sub-standard first half, Bradley's passing was more effective after the break.
Paul Arriola (2.5)
The D.C. United right-sider had little to no effect on the game during his 45 minutes of work. Arriola constantly left Bradley without both defensive support and a passing outlet.
Darlington Nagbe (4)
During the opening frame, the Portland midfielder strangely committed four cheap giveaways in the US end and coughed up another while attempting to lead a promising attack rush. Perhaps it's just as well he left Bradley stranded on the ball so often. Nagbe improved considerably after intermission, and even picked up a cheap assist.
Christian Pulisic (6.5)
While his fine strike just past the break gave the visitors hope of a rally and a late cross nearly helped complete it, this was a hot-and-cold outing for the youngster. Pulisic was quite invisible for large swaths of the first half and was caught dribbling far too often on the night.
Bobby Wood (3.5)
One could certainly be forgiven for failing to notice Wood was on the field until his header from the Pulisic serve mentioned above was cruelly pawed away.
Jozy Altidore (4)
The Toronto FC striker suffered through an abysmal first half with his hold-up game. Like several of his teammates, Altidore was better after halftime – without being good enough to make the needed difference.
Bruce Arena (0)
Last week Arena stated that he had not given any thought to this Trinidad & Tobago match prior to Friday's home clash vs. Panama. Tuesday's game plan and the resulting US performance compels one to wonder if there was any thought put into it after the Panama win, either.
Sticking with a winning lineup is much more applicable to club ball than it is to the World Cup qualifying game, where the team generally has only a few days between matches and then several weeks, or even months, apart. Simply throwing out what worked in Panama was oddly lackadaisical, and that's exactly how the team played in a game that was meant to secure their place at Russia 2018.
It pains me to say it, but that was inexcusable. And if that wasn't annoying enough, Arena then stunted any potential comeback (again, in a situation where their very World Cup hopes were dying on the fire) by making a highly curious second sub and waiting far too long for the third. The coach has had many great days on the bench. This was his worst, at the worst possible time.
Clint Dempsey (6.5)
On a night when the USMNT seemed to collectively lack a belly fire, there was no such issue with Dempsey. The Sounders stalwart came off the bench ready to lift the team on his back, and twice came painfully close to finding the goal needed to keep their World Cup hopes alive.
Kellyn Acosta (5)
The FC Dallas man offered some helpful hustle, but not much else as a makeshift left back.
Benny Feilhaber (-)
It might have been nice to see what the SKC playmaker could accomplish given more pitch time.