A win or a tie would have done it. Or even one loss or tie by the underdogs in Tuesday night's other two qualifying games.
Or beating Honduras a month ago, or beating Panama in March, or not losing both games to Costa Rica.
A 2-1 loss Tuesday night to Trinidad and Tobago — the only team below the U.S. soccer team in the standings — and wins by Honduras and Panama over the qualifying tourney's best two teams mean the Americans will miss the 2018 World Cup in Russia. They'd played in seven World Cups in a row dating back to 1990.
The U.S. defense, which has taken much of the blame for the team's poor performances, had another sloppy night. Trinidad and Tobago's first goal came when the Americans' Omar Gonzales shanked his attempt to clear a cross, instead blooping it in over the head of U.S. goalie Tim Howard.
A long-range goal by Trinidad and Tobago defender Alvin Jones gave the team a 2-0 lead at halftime — and only Howard's quick reaction to and pursuit of a later spinning free kick from Jones kept it from being 3-0.
Midfielder Christian Pulisic — a 19-year-old star who is seen as the future of the struggling U.S. men's team — added a goal just after halftime to complete the scoring.
Team USA got into this position thanks to stumbles in early qualification games, which led to the firing of manager Jurgen Klinsman in November 2016 and his replacement by Bruce Arena, who had led the Americans from 1998-2006. Arena had a string of successes, going months without losing.
"Four months ago we were rebuilding our program. A program that was in desperate shape of being in a position to qualify for a World Cup," he said. "So I think we've made great strides in the past four months and [playing in the Gold Cup Final] is a great opportunity for us to make progress."
But a 2-0 loss to Costa Rica and a 1-1 tie with Honduras in September left Team USA vulnerable, and the only scenario that could keep them out of the World Cup — including a loss to the 99th ranked team in the world — came to pass Tuesday night.