The defeat for USA ended a run of seven straight American appearances at football’s showcase.
The Soca Warriors scored a pair of first-half goals, getting one off USA defender Omar Gonzalez, and the United States made too many other mistakes to recover.
Shocked American players slumped on the bench, and Matt Besler sat on the field after the final whistle as Panama’s game ended and then Costa Rica’s. At the end, dejected USA players filed into their locker rooms with blank looks.
"We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal," coach Bruce Arena said. "That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated."
The U.S. entered its final qualifier with a berth uncertain for the first time since 1989. Home losses to Mexico last November and Costa Rica left the Americans little margin for error.
The 28th-ranked Americans needed merely a tie against 99th-ranked Trinidad, which lost its sixth straight qualifier last week. But the defeat - coupled with Honduras’ come-from-behind 3-2 win over Mexico and Panama’s 2-1 victory over Costa Rica on Ramon Torres’ 88th-minute goal - dropped the Americans from third place into fifth in the six-nation final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.
Mexico and Costa Rica already had clinched berths, and Panama claimed the third and final automatic spot and will go the World Cup for the first time. Honduras will meet Australia in a two-game playoff next month for another spot at next year’s 32-nation tournament.
Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.
After an 0-2 start in the hexagonal last fall under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USSF replaced him last November with Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. The team revived with home wins over Honduras and Trinidad last spring and draws at Panama and Mexico. But the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica in New Jersey at the start of Labor Day weekend proved one hurdle too many to overcome.
The Americans fell behind in the 17th minute when Gonzalez made a casual attempt with his left foot to clear Alvin Jones’ cross and sent the ball looping over the outstretched right arm of goalkeeper Tim Howard from 18 yards.
Jones doubled the lead in the 37th with a 35-yard strike, again to Howard’s upper right corner, and nearly scored another in the 44th when his swerving shot bounced off Howard’s chest and spilled into the penalty area.
The U.S. bench was tense, as Honduras scored twice early in the second half to take the lead over visiting Mexico in the 60th minute and Panama tied the score against visiting Costa Rica in the 52nd.