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Player ratings: USMNT’s World Cup dreams are dead

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The U.S. national team has been eliminated from contention for the 2018 World Cup. It’s a dark night in the history of American soccer, one that will surely cost this sport in this country a healthy heaping of momentum.

These are the men, along with Bruce Arena, Jurgen Klinsmann and Sunil Gulati, who will bear the brunt of the backlash over the coming days, weeks, months and years…

[ MORE: Three things we learned | Arena: “No excuses. We failed.” ]

GK — Tim Howard: 2 — We’ve known all along that Howard would be 39 when the next World Cup rolls around, yet very little has been done to usher in his replacement. Even Brad Guzan, admittedly largely through fault of his own, has been cast aside in favor of a 36-, 37- and now 38-year-old Howard. He showed his age like never before in the first half.

RB — DeAndre Yedlin: 5 — Yedlin was the USMNT’s lone danger man in the first half, as he bombed forward and caused problem’s for T&T, but the final ball was ultimately lacking in quality. His goal-line clearance early in the second half kept the score 2-1.

CB — Omar Gonzalez: 3 — His early own goal aside, Gonzalez was a colossal disaster for the second straight game. Geoff Cameron clearly wasn’t fit enough to go in either of these two games, and while that’s understandable, it’s equally frightening to consider Gonzalez will be one minor injury away from starting games with such consequence.

CB — Matt Besler: 4 — Here’s a snippet of what I wrote about Besler on Friday: Didn’t struggle as badly as Gonzalez, mostly because he’s more accustomed to playing in open space, but playing alongside Gonzalez really highlights his most problematic deficiency: a minor lack of pace and athleticism. Yup.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 5 — Hey, now we’ve got almost five full years to find the left back of the future.

[ RECAP: USMNT eliminated from World Cup contention ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 5 — No man can play the entire central midfield on his own, but here we are, asking Bradley to do it again and again and again.

CM — Paul Arriola: 5 — Arriola’s role in this midfield is to win second balls, and harass and harry when he fails to win second balls. He did neither in this game, and he was understandably sacrificed at halftime.

CM — Darlington Nagbe: 4 —It was Nagbe who was criminally out of position in the build-up to T&T’s second goal, giving Alvin Jones an uncontested 30-yard buffer in midfield. Nagbe’s inclusion as a central midfielder is warranted when the USMNT has plenty of meaningful possession, but in a game like this one where it’s disjointed and all about the second ball, he’s kind of just… out there.

CM — Christian Pulisic: 6 — His early second-half goal brought the USMNT back into the game, but that was it from the wonderkid on Tuesday. T&T forced him deeper and deeper — often times 20 and 30 and 40 yards inside his own half — just to get on the ball. There’s not a whole lot he’s going to do for you back there.

[ VIDEO: Gonzalez’s early own goal | Howard caught napping ]

FW — Jozy Altidore: 4 — Pulisic being forced deeper and deeper has a knock-on effect for Altidore, who then must drop deeper and deeper to find the ball himself. He’s a playmaker and a good link in the hole, but what’s there to link inside the center circle when your no. 10 is far deeper himself?

FW — Bobby Wood: 4 — Just as there’s a knock-on effect between Pulisic and Altidore, there also exists one between Altidore and Wood, who relies on Altidore circulating the ball in dangerous areas to make his own channel runs useful. Without that meaningful possession and passing from Altidore, Wood is left to do a whole lot of standing around.

SUB — Clint Dempsey: 5.5 — Dempsey was less a tactical change, and more a “please just go make something happen” halftime sub. He took up unexpected spots in the final third, which caused a few problems, and hit the post with 15 minutes to go, but that was about it.

SUB —Kellyn Acosta: 5 — Brought on for Villafaña, Acosta essentially played alongside Bradley and left the defense in a back-three setup. Why Dax McCarty, the man who so successfully partnered Bradley late in the game on Friday, wasn’t brought on instead is known by Arena and only Arena.

SUB —Benny Feilhaber: N/A — Brought on six minutes from the end of regular time, Feilhaber had insufficient time to make an impact.

Please save us, Mexico! USMNT 2-0 down to T&T at HT

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The U.S. national team’s already-no-good night has gone from bad to worse.

[ MORE: 3rd? 4th? 5th? USMNT scenarios on the final day of WCQ ]

Down a goal after 17 minutes (thanks to an Omar Gonzalez own goal — WATCH HERE), Bruce Arena’s side now finds itself 2-0 down to Trinidad & Tobago with just 45 minutes remaining in which they control their own 2018 World Cup destiny.

[ MORE: Gonzalez’s own goal puts USMNT down early ]

Eight minutes before halftime, Alvin Jones unleashed a thunderbolt from all of 35 yards out, catching Tim Howard in no man’s land and slow to react. At this point, it’s all in Mexico and/or Costa Rica’s hands.

Trouble brewing: USMNT trails T&T after early Omar OG (video)

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All the U.S. national team had to do to officially qualify for the 2018 World Cup on Tuesday was to avoid falling flat on its collective face.

[ MORE: 3rd? 4th? 5th? USMNT scenarios on the final day of WCQ ]

Through 30 minutes of Bruce Arena’s side’s Hexagonal finale, it’s not gone according to plan. After failing to control the game through possession whatsoever, the USMNT went a goal down when Omar Gonzalez looped the ball high over the head of Tim Howard and into the back of the Yanks’ goal in the 17th minute.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USA 4-0 PanamaThree things we learned ]

Gonzalez looked lost on the botched clearance, but Howard has never before shown his age so severely… or so costly.

USMNT v. Trinidad and Tobago Preview

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For a country that loves dramatic finishes, the U.S. Men’s National Team has sure left it late.

The USMNT heads into its final game in the Hex at Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday evening with its World Cup hopes still up for grabs, although crucially the U.S. holds its own destiny. A win and they’re in. A draw, and anything but the most unlikely scenario puts them through to the next round.

[MORE: 3 keys for USMNT vs. T&T]

But a loss, coupled with wins by Panama and Honduras at home? That could be the dagger for this USMNT.

The pressure of a nation is weighing on the squad as they take the field Tuesday, hopefully not comically surrounded by a moat and waterlogged by heavy rains like it was Monday.

Coincidentally, the U.S. has been here before. The last time the USMNT didn’t have qualifying wrapped up by the last match day was in 1989 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, when Paul Caligiuri saved the day for the U.S. with a 30th minute goal that sent the USA to the World Cup.

This time around, the Soca Warriors and Yanks will reconvene a few miles down the road at the Ato Boldon Stadium.

Unlike the 4-0 win over Panama, the U.S. won’t be playing on a pristine pitch with a fast surface. If anything, expect the ball to bobble more and take unexpected hops while players try to run through the heavy surface, as described by Bruce Arena. This calls for tactics closer to that of the Honduras away match, or perhaps even the Mexico away match where the U.S. came away with a 1-1 draw.

“It definitely changes the way the game is going to look,” Arena said. “It’s going to be a slow game, probably a little bit sloppy. A little bit different than we’ve seen in any of the qualifying games. But we’ll have to adapt to the conditions of the field.”

On the USMNT’s side is history. The last time the USA played a World Cup qualifier in Trinidad and Tobago, they held on for a scoreless draw. The time before that, a 1-0 win in 2009 (Tim Howard, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore started that night).

Overall, the U.S. is 18-2-4 against the Soca Warriors with a 13-1-3 clip in World Cup qualifying. During the side’s last meeting in June in the altitude of Denver, T&T hung in with the U.S. until the second half, when two Christian Pulisic strikes put the game out of reach.

While the conditions will be different, perhaps if the U.S. can control possession or press high up the field, they can tire out Trinidad again and exploit it in the second half.

“Now the pressure is on for us to at least get a point, and we’re not here to get one point, we’re here to get three points,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “I think that’s the mentality and I think going into this game it’s going to be extremely important to remember that.

“The conditions are going to be tough but I think in the end we’ll be able to do what we do best, and that’s take care of business.”

One of the noticeable traits of this current USMNT squad is its experience. 12 players on the roster have made 11 or more World Cup qualifying appearances, led by Clint Dempsey with 42. Centerback pair Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler went through the last round of qualifying and helped lead the U.S. at the World Cup, while Bradley, Altidore and Howard have been mainstays for the past two World Cup cycles.

That experience, especially playing against a young opponent in Trinidad and Tobago with nothing to lose, could give the Americans a leg up on the road in a crunch qualifier.

“It happens throughout one’s career where you play on these type of fields where the ball doesn’t roll, it gets stuck in water,” Gonzalez said. “You just have to play through it. The circumstances are going to be difficult tomorrow but we’re playing to go to a World Cup.

“You have to put it behind us, we have to control what we can control, and that’s our alertness, our competitiveness, how aggressive we are, and the rest we have to roll with it and do what we can to win the game.”

Three keys for USMNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago

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Win, and they’re in.

That or a draw is what’s on the line for the U.S. Men’s National Team on Tuesday evening when it takes the field at Ato Bolden Stadium in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago. The USMNT is coming off a confidence-boosting 4-0 rout of Panama, but the squad discovered Monday afternoon things wouldn’t be easy in Trinidad and Tobago.

[ MORE: How will the USA line up against T&T? ]

Thanks to heavy rains recently, a natural “moat” of water separated the players from the locker room and the field, forcing them to improvise ways of getting over it. Perhaps trekking through the water will be a character-building exercise. Or it’s a reminder that in CONCACAF, nothing comes easy.

Trinidad and Tobago are coming off a 3-1 road defeat in Mexico, and while they’re eliminated from World Cup contention, they’re likely to try and score a big result against the U.S. on home turf.

With so much on the line, let’s take a look at three keys to victory for the USMNT over Trinidad and Tobago.

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