Perfect Storm of Hex Results Eliminates USA from 2018 World Cup Contention After 2-1 Loss in Trinidad & Tobago
PREVIEW: MNT Can Book World Cup Place with Result in Trinidad & Tobago | 8pm ET | beIN SPORTS, UNIVERSO
When the U.S. Men’s National stepped onto the vaunted Estadio Azteca pitch during June’s World Cup Qualifying clash a little history was made. MNT and Liga MX veteran DaMarcus Beasley was slotted in at left back for the difficult tie, making his first appearance of the USA’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying campaign and in turn, becoming the first MNT player to appear in five different qualifying cycles.
That feat was all made possible because of his inclusion in a Final Round qualifier played at Trinidad & Tobago in November 2001. Just a month earlier, the USA had memorably defeated Jamaica 2-1 and had each of the other two results go its way to secure its place at the 2002 FIFA World Cup. That triumph, combined with Trinidad & Tobago’s early elimination allowed Bruce Arena to try a few different looks with his lineup, one of which was handing Beasley, who had been capped just twice before, his qualifying debut at the tender age of 19.
“We had already qualified and obviously the pressure was off, so being a young kid, you go out there and just play,” the 35-year-old remembered about the experience.
Lining up on the left side of midfield alongside Earnie Stewart, John O’Brien and Jovan Kirovski, Beasley was active early on, but would eventually be hampered by an elbow to the head from Soca Warriors’ attacker Nigel Pierre in the 17th minute. Beasley stayed down on the Hasely Crawford pitch for a long period of time before walking off moments later.
“My debut didn’t last too long because I got a concussion in the first half and came off at halftime."
At a time where concussion awareness wasn’t as heightened as the present day, Beasley was cleared to re-enter the game before being replaced by Cobi Jones at the break.
- ARENA: "Trinidad & Tobago will have aggressive mentality"
- READ: Five Things to Know About Trinidad & Tobago
“I kind of still remember the play,” he said, “but I don’t remember too much of the game.”
Those that didn’t have concussions would have a hard time remembering it as well. Played on a steamy afternoon in Port of Spain, both teams saw multiple shots go high and wide throughout the match, though Beasley’s Chicago Fire teammate and fellow qualifying debutant Zach Thornton did make a nice diving save on Stern John’s hit from distance in the 52nd minute.
Eventually the final whistle blew as the team’s shared a point in the 0-0 draw.
Still hanging around with the National Team 16 years later, Beasley said he looked forward to returning to Trinidad & Tobago, this time with a different setting -- the smaller Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva -- but still with plenty more on the line than his qualifying debut.
“This is what all players want, a chance to qualify for the World Cup, but to be part of the game that actually does it. People take it for granted and say that you should just qualify. People don’t understand how big qualifying for the World Cup is, how much blood, sweat and hard work goes into a qualifier. Hopefully we get a good result on Tuesday and we can celebrate a little bit when we do it. It’ll be a great end to a long qualifying campaign.”Read more
After the U.S. Men’s National Team took care of its business with a 4-0 shutout against Panama on Friday night, attention in camp was focused on San Jose, Costa Rica the following night. There, the hosts took on Central American rival Honduras in a match that had huge implications for both teams as well as the two sides who met the previous night in Orlando.
A Costa Rica side that needed only a draw to qualify for the World Cup looked sluggish at times, more than willing to absorb and keep things scoreless for 90 minutes. Needing as many points as it can get, Honduras was on the front foot most of the match and found the go-ahead goal when Eddie Hernández rose to head home Rommel Quioto’s cross in the 77th minute.
The goal pulled Costa Rica out of its shell, but most of its attacks were stifled. Just as Honduras looked like it would pull off one of the big results of the Hex, Ticos captain Kendall Waston similarly rose in a crowd to power in the equalizer in the fifth minute of stoppage time, sending the stadium into pandemonium. Not long after, the referee blew the full time whistle and Costa Rica had booked its ticket and helped out both the USA and Panama in the process.
Having watched the game with his coaching staff in the hotel restaurant, MNT head coach Bruce Arena said Sunday, “I think we’re in a pretty good position. I believe unless something completely bizarre occurs, one point secures us third place in the group.”
Though both rivals for that third and final automatic World Cup berth could equal the USA on points with wins in their final games, the MNT’s huge edge in goal differential above Panama (7 goals) and Honduras (12 goals), mean a draw in the Matchday 10 qualifier at Trinidad & Tobago almost certainly punches a ticket to Russia for Arena’s side.
Though one point is all it will take, after watching Costa Rica nearly lose playing that way – and knowing that a loss could bring the U.S. team down to fifth place -- Arena didn’t mince words when it came to the desired result Tuesday night.
“We need to get on the field Tuesday and win the game,” he said. “In the closing minutes, if we have a point wrapped up, we just need to be smart, but certainly our mentality is going to be to go to Trinidad and win.”
With the home side out of World Cup contention following September’s matches, head coach Dennis Lawrence elected to summon a younger, less-tested squad as he looks to build the national team for the future. Without much in the way of expectations, the greener group of Soca Warriors showed well in their visit to Mexico on Friday, leading 1-0 before surrendering two goals in the final two minutes and eventually succumbing 3-1.
Playing to prove a point, Arena expects the young side will be fearless at home and unlikely to care much that the U.S. holds a 13-1-3 edge in the qualifying series.
“They have no pressure on them,” he said. “They’ve been playing some new players and I think they’re going to be playing with a lot of freedom. They can be very aggressive – no one from Trinidad is going to be suspended for the first game of the World Cup, so they can have an aggressive mentality, they can have a loose spirit and they’re going to be a real difficult team to play against, so we have to be at our best.”Read more
In the unforgiving rules of World Cup Qualifying in CONCACAF, a player who is issued two yellow cards through the course of 15 games spanning two years would receive a one-game suspension. Heading into the final two matches of the Hex that will determine whether the USA qualifies for its eighth consecutive World Cup or not, a total of nine MNT players were carrying a caution.
Against a Panamanian team with a well-established reputation of being thuggish bordering on dirty, one mistake, one silly foul, or one act of retaliation could have meant suspension for the United States' most important World Cup Qualifier in 16 years.
Despite the constant fouling of Christian Pulisic, the violent off the ball strike to the head of Matt Besler by Felipe Baloy which required stitches, the absolute decking of Jozy Altidore by Román Torres and many other card-worthy incidents, the U.S. maintained discipline, composure and resolve.
As a result, the scoresheet contained a zero that was almost as important as the shutout – not a single yellow card issued to the United States, ensuring that the likes of team captain Michael Bradley, U.S. all-time leading scorer Clint Dempsey, World Cup veterans Alejandro Bedoya, Matt Besler and DeAndre Yedlin, and up-and-comers Kelly Acosta and Paul Arriola will all be available for selection in Tuesday night’s decisive showdown with Trinidad & Tobago.
Sometimes the best way to protect a teammate is to make sure you are on the field with him to help get a result in the games that really matter. Among the other big achievements against Panama, the U.S. MNT accomplished this critical task as well.Read more