- USA’s Russia 2018 ended with 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago
- Stars and Stripes qualified for Italy 1990 in reversed circumstances
- Long-range goal denied Soca Warriors a World Cup debut on final day
“We were so close to reaching the World Cup and then we all woke up the next morning to realise our dreams had been dashed,” said one player, looking ahead to a narrowly missed chance to live out a FIFA World Cup™ fantasy.
“The disappointment was almost too much to bear,” said another.
These could so easily be the words of USA’s stars today, knowing that just a point in Trinidad and Tobabo would have taken them to Russia 2018. In fact, they are those of the Soca Warriors’ own Russell Latapy and Dwight Yorke who, 28 years ago, saw their dreams shattered by the Stars and Stripes in an eerily similar manner to the USA’s 2-1 defeat on Tuesday night.
History tells the story of Paul Caligiuri’s goal catapulting the USA to Italy 1990 on the final day of qualifying – when only a win would do – into a run of seven successive appearances at the finals after a 40-year absence. The flip side of that tale then was that T&T’s legendary ‘Strike Squad’, a team arguably not even matched by the one that made their World Cup debut 17 years later, missed out in heartbreaking style.
The young stars of that team, Latapy and Yorke, would go on to finally live out their dreams at Germany 2006, but the parallels of their near-miss to the USA’s today are striking. Just like the Soca Warriors that day, all Bruce Arena’s side needed was a point to stamp their World Cup ticket and, ultimately, a thunderous goal from distance was what inflicted defeat – though last night’s Couva reboot occurred 40 minutes drive south of the Port of Spain original.
While Alvin Jones’s screamer will not be heralded in the same way as Caligiuri’s, having not brought the joy of a finals to a nation, his name may well go on to bring shudders down the spines of USA fans for years to come, just as the California native’s did for the Caribbean island’s football faithful.
What is certain is the reactions to the defeat are very reminiscent to the words uttered by the vanquished side almost three decades ago. None more so than those of Omar Gonzalez, whose own goal set the American nightmare rolling after just 17 minutes.
“I just want to say sorry to the fans. We let down an entire nation,” the defender, who appeared at Brazil 2014, reflected. “It’s one of the most unlucky goals ever, I think, for myself. It will haunt me forever. I never thought that I’d see this day. This is the worst day of my career.”
A goal that was as farcical as it was horrendously unfortunate, slicing wildly off the outside of his boot to loop over Tim Howard, it was a strike – as with Jones’ top-drawer effort – that seemed to point squarely to it not being USA’s night.
“It was kind of like fate, having it come down to that last game,” Mike Windischmann, captain of the side that would go on to appear at Italy 1990, told FIFA.com on their island triumph. Following a disjointed qualifying campaign, some may view the defeat in a similar, albeit less rosy, manner.
Inconsistency punctuated by moments of brilliant cohesion on their Russia-targeting journey, namely putting ten past Panama and Honduras on American soil, means there will be plenty of questions asked as a generation of USA fans must watch a World Cup without a home side to get behind.
However, few will envisage the likes of Christian Pulisic, USA’s young starlet and last night’s standout performer, will have to wait as long as Yorke to taste a trip to the finals. But in the immediate aftermath of defeat, there will have been plenty on hand in Couva who could easily empathise with the pain of missing out this way.