Arena accepts blame in passionate defense of U.S. Soccer setup
COUVA, Trinidad -- United States manager Bruce Arena took responsibility for the shock 2-1 defeat to Trinidad and Tobago that eliminated the Americans from the World Cup, but he also said nothing needs to change with the approach of U.S. Soccer.
The U.S. started the night in third place in the final round of World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF, but its loss, combined with Honduras' 3-2 win over Mexico, and Panama's 2-1 victory over Costa Rica dropped them to fifth place in the Hex, allowing the Canaleros to claim third place on goal difference, and the Catrachos to contest a playoff against Australia.
"I think it's disappointing. It's a blemish for us," said Arena. "We should be not be staying home for this World Cup. I take responsibility for that."
Arena's contract expires next July, while U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati will face opposition if he decides to stand for re-election in a vote set for February.
But asked how U.S. Soccer should respond to the defeat, Arena answered in a manner that is likely to infuriate American fans everywhere.
"There's nothing wrong with what we're doing," he said. "Certainly as our league grows, it advances the national team program. We have some good young players come up.
"Nothing has to change. To make any kind of crazy changes I think would be foolish. We're building a good system in our professional league. We have players playing abroad of some quality.
"There's enough there. There's no excuses for us not qualifying for the World Cup."
The U.S. played with none of the verve and aggression that it showed in Friday's 4-0 hammering of Panama. Instead it looked tentative, allowing the home side to take the initiative. An own goal from U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez put the Soca Warriors on top in the 17th minute.
"I think we foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal," said Arena. "At that point we started to get into the game and it was going to be OK.
"That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. It got them motivated and they closed out the half in good form. That was a big play in the game."
Alvin Jones then compounded the Americans' difficulty with 30-yard blast eight minutes before halftime.
"I thought maybe the first 5-10 minutes we were okay," said Arena. "But I think their energy, and dropping off [defensively], they got in good spots. Our center-backs were not confident enough with the ball, and really we often in the first half we were playing eight against 10 because they really needed to carry the ball and bring a player to the ball and move it a bit quicker.
"Our forwards were not able to hold the ball, we did a poor job there. We didn't get [Christian] Pulisic into the game, we played poorly. The first goal was unfortunate. Those things happen. The second goal was an incredible shot. What can you say?"
Borussia Dortmund star Pulisic pulled a goal back minutes into the second half, but the U.S. couldn't find the breakthrough it needed to keep its qualification hopes alive, with substitute Clint Dempsey's shot bouncing off the post in the 77th minute.
"Give our opponent credit," said Arena. "They played well, they played hard, on the day they won a lot of individual battles against us, and they deserve all the credit for their win."
Arena added that he didn't inform his team of what the scores were in the other games, as a draw would have put them through regardless of results elsewhere.
"It never mattered to us the score of the other games at any time today," he said.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.