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US eliminated from 2018 World Cup contention in 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago

Kevin Baxter, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Soccer

COUVA, Trinidad -- The longest, most arduous journey for a U.S. national team in 28 years reached the finish line Tuesday. But it wasn't the kind of finish the Americans had been hoping for, with a 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago, combined with wins by Honduras and Panama, denying the U.S. an automatic berth in next summer's World Cup.

The U.S. started Tuesday needing only a draw to finish third in the CONCACAF qualifying tournament and secure a trip to Russia. Instead, Tuesday's results drop it to fifth and out of the World Cup for the first time in 31 years.

Panama will advance to Russia as the third-place team after beating Costa Rica while Honduras will finish fourth and go on to a two-leg playoff with Australia next month with a final World Cup berth at stake.

Trinidad's scores both came in the first half, on an own goal from U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez and a shot from distance by Alvin Jones. Christian Pulisic accounted for the U.S. score two minutes after the intermission.

The last time the U.S. went to the final day of qualifying with its World Cup status uncertain was 1989. That game was also played in Trinidad, but it ended more happily for the Americans, with Paul Caligiuri's first-half goal before a packed house in Trinidad's national stadium climaxing a Cinderella run that took the Americans to their first World Cup in 40 years.

It also eliminated Trinidad, which had needed only a draw to advance. Tuesday the Soca Warriors, last in the CONCACAF standings and eliminated from World Cup contention, got their long-awaiting revenge.

The rematch didn't have near the atmosphere, though. Trinidad's soccer federation said electrical problems made the national stadium unusable so they moved the game to a tiny 10,000-seat track stadium in Couva, about an hour south of Trinidad's capital.

Trinidad also engaged in some gamesmanship. When the U.S. made the long drive to the stadium to train Monday, it found much of the field and the synthetic track at Ato Boldon Stadium underwater, preventing the team from practicing.

By kickoff Tuesday, both were dry and the stadium was more than half empty.

The U.S. started the same team it used in last Friday's rout of Panama, which was a bit of a surprise since coach Bruce Arena has rotated his lineup between qualifiers. He may have paid for his break with precedent with the heavy-legged U.S. team, slowed by the sodden turf, struggling throughout the opening half.

Trinidad, meanwhile, fought from the opening whistle, with Shahdon Winchester beating Tim Howard on what appeared to be the opening score in the fourth minute. But the goal was waved off because Winchester was well offside.

Thirteen minutes later Winchester was back -- this time well onside -- and when Jones targeted him with a cross, Gonzalez stepped in front and knocked the ball into his own goal to give Trinidad a 1-0 lead.

Jones didn't need any help doubling the lead in the 37th minute, pulling up to bend a right-footed shot in near the far post from about 35 yards.

The U.S. trailed 2-0 and hadn't even taken a shot.

Mexico needed 78 minutes to break down Trinidad last week, rallying from a 1-0 deficit to win on three late goals. The U.S. started its comeback a bit earlier, with Pulisic cutting the deficit in half in the 47th minute on a laser from about 20 yards.

It was the teenager's ninth goal in 20 games with the national team and his second in as many qualifiers.

The U.S., suddenly showing some urgency, was denied the tying goal in the 69th minute when Trinidad keeper Glenroy Samuel made a splendid, leaping save on Clint Dempsey, who had sent up by a well-placed corner from Michael Bradley.

Seven minutes later, Dempsey was stopped by the goalpost and in the 87th minute Samuel collected a bouncing header from Bobby Wood.

(c)2017 Los Angeles Times

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