ESPN's Jeff Carlisle explains the situation on the Football Show
All the United States had to do was avoid defeat away at a Trinidad and Tobago side who been long eliminated from the 2018 World Cup reckoning.
But everything that could go wrong did go wrong on Tuesday night. Not only did rivals Panama (a tad controversially) and Honduras win their games against already qualified Costa Rica and Mexico, but Bruce Arena's USA contrived to go 2-0 down and ultimately lose 2-1 in Trinidad to finish fifth in the CONCACAF qualifying group, failing even to gain a fourth place playoff spot that would have secured the lifeline of a playoff against Australia.
The loss has led to rants from ex-USA internationals on TV networks such as Taylor Twellman's and plenty of soul searching for a nation that had qualified for every World Cup from 1990 onwards, making the knockout stages in 1994, 2002, 2010 and 2014.
ESPN's Jeff Carlisle to sift through the debris of USA's shattered soccer dreams, starting with the wild inconsistency on recent months which reached its nadir this week.
"They beat Honduras 6-0 back in March but they couldn't sustain it. Certainly a lot of alarm bells started to ring when they lost to Costa Rica at home. That really was a huge setback. They rallied a bit to get a draw against Honduras on the road but once again it was just a case of too much inconsistency and a little bit of complacency," he said.
"It just seemed that throughout the cycle, whenever the US would get a really good result, they couldn't follow it up with a solid result that was really going to propel them forward. In terms of the Trinidad match, there was really no excuse."
But how well placed is US soccer to bounce back from this setback? For Carlisle, while "a lot of damage is going to be done" in terms of lost opportunities with viewership and sponsorship, the sport is on safer ground than 20 years ago in the country.
"I will say that the sport in the United States is on very firm footing. I mean, if this were to have happened 20 years ago, it could have massively set the sport back but MLS has been around for over 20 years now, the league isn't going anywhere, stadiums are being built, the league is expanding, there's more investment in academies and other infrastructure, so certainly the game isn't going to die over here as a result and I expect plenty of fans will tune into the World Cup but a lot of damage is going to be done," he said, adding that viewership spikes high during World Cups.
But the lack of talented players coming through is an issue as Carlisle explained.
"There's been a generation that has not come through for the United States. If you want to look back, just in terms of youth tournaments, there were some warning signs there," he said, pointing out failures at Olympic, U20s and U17s level.
"There were warning signs there before that all was not well and certainly when you look at the roster between the ages of 24 and 28, an awful lot of players have not been able to make a breakthrough. As a consequence, this team got old in a hurry."