COUVA, Trinidad (AP) - Twenty-eight years after the United States ended a four-decade World Cup absence with a stunning victory at Trinidad, the Americans' chances for the 2018 tournament in Russia ended on this island nation off the coast of Venezuela in even more astonishing fashion.
Needing only a tie and confident of victory against the world's 99th-ranked team, the U.S. was eliminated from World Cup contention Tuesday night with a 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago that ended a run of seven straight American appearances at soccer's showcase.
"We let down an entire nation today," said defender Omar Gonzalez, whose 17th-minute own goal started the collapse.
Gonzalez casually tried to clear Alvin Jones' cross and sent it looping from 15 yards over the outstretched right arm of Tim Howard. Jones doubled the deal in the 37th minute with a 35-yard strike.
Christian Pulisic, the Americas' rising 19-year-old star, scored in the 47th minute, giving the U.S. hope.
Clint Dempsey, at 34 trying to make it to a fourth World Cup, entered at the start of the second half and was denied by goalkeeper Adrian Foncette's leaping save in the 69th and hit a post from 22 yards in the 77th. Bobby Wood's header in the 88th was sent wide by Foncette.
Even a defeat could have earned a berth, but only if Panama and Honduras both lost. And if the U.S. and only one of those rivals were beaten, the Americans would have finished fourth and advanced to a playoff next month against Australia.
Panama trailed 1-0 to Costa Rica at halftime and Honduras was behind 2-1 to Mexico, but both rallied against nations that already had clinched berths. Gabriel Torres scored for Panama in the 52nd minute on a shot that did not appear to cross the goal line, and Honduras went ahead on Guillermo Ochoa's own goal in the 54th and Romell Quioto's goal in the 60th.
At that point, the 28th-ranked Americans were playoff bound, but Roman Torres scored in the 88th minute to give Panama a 2-1 win, a third-place finish with 13 points and its first World Cup berth. Honduras finished fourth on goal difference and goes to the playoff.
The Americans, who would have qualified with 13 points because of a superior goal difference, instead had 12 points and finished fifth in the hexagonal.
"It's a blemish for us," coach Bruce Arena said. "We should not be staying home for this World Cup and I take the responsibility for that."
American players were not aware of the scores of the other games until after the final whistle.
"When I looked over at the bench and everyone was sitting down," Gonzalez said, "I could just see from the looks on their faces that it wasn't good."
Back in 1989, Trinidad needed merely a tie to reach its first World Cup, but Paul Caligiuri's long-range goal in the 30th minute put the U.S. in the tournament for the first time since 1950.
That game was played before a crowd of 35,000-plus at National Stadium in the capital of Port-of-Spain. With Trinidad already eliminated, this one drew a few hundred fans at Ato Boldon Stadium, 24 miles to the south.