One year on, how the U.S. men's national team missed the 2018 World Cup

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In the bowels of Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva, Trinidad, champagne and beer sat chilled in the U.S. locker room. All the men's national team had to do was tie Trinidad & Tobago on this humid October evening, and a trip to Russia for the 2018 World Cup was theirs.

There was every reason to plan a celebration. The U.S. had taken part in the previous seven World Cups, qualifying six times and hosting the event in 1994. Of the 23 players on the roster that night, 16 hadn't even been born when the U.S. last failed to qualify for a World Cup, in 1985. Plus, the U.S. was playing a T&T side that had already been eliminated, having lost eight of its nine matches in the final-round Hexagonal. In seven career road World Cup qualifiers against T&T, the U.S. had lost only once, and that was during the 2010 cycle, when its progression to the Hex had already been nfl jerseys china nike

But then the first goal went in for T&T, another followed 20 minutes later and a furious second-half fight back from the U.S. fell short. Meanwhile, some 1,200 miles away in Panama, defender Roman Torres scored to put the Canaleros ahead against Costa Rica. When the final whistle blew in Couva, the U.S. staff hustled the champagne and beer out of the locker room. The celebration was not to be -- and neither was the trip to Russia.10

The ensuing months have resulted in considerable soul-searching within the U.S. soccer community. ESPN FC spoke to 18 current and former players and staff associated with the program about what happened that night in Trinidad and how the past four years might have contributed to the breakdown. What has emerged from those conversations is a sense that the men's program has lost its identity.

Johnson was famously sent home by Klinsmann following the CONCACAF Cup defeat to Mexico in 2015 -- and ahead of a friendly against Costa Rica. Johnson had begged out of the match, citing an injury, and Klinsmann became furious when it emerged that Johnson wasn't as hurt as he initially stated. But for some, that kind of accountability didn't happen often nike nfl jerseys china

Klinsmann's style of man-management, an approach that was laid bare in a 2013 Sporting News article, remained an issue as the new cycle beckoned. Klinsmann often pushed his players to focus on their profession 24/7. Some pushed back. Then there was Klinsmann's habit of criticizing players in public for poor performances rather than owning up to his own failings. It was a style some dealt with better than others.

"Maybe some guys under Jurgen, they couldn't handle his bluntness," U.S. midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said. "Look, he threw me under the bus one game. What am I going to do, cry and whine about it? No. I know he threw me under the bus, and I know he knows he was wrong. He should own up to the fact that he shouldn't have played me as a No. 6 against Brazil. But it is what it is. So what? On to the next game. Some guys maybe can't handle it. It's a different mindset from player to player."

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