United States loses to Trinidad and Tobago, fails to qualify for World Cup

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United States loses to Trinidad and Tobago, fails to qualify for World Cup

COUVA, Trinidad -- 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.

The U.S. entered its final qualifier with a berth uncertain for the first time since 1989. Home losses to Mexico last November and Costa Rica caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Jurgen Klinsmann and bring back Arena, the U.S. coach from 1998-2006. But after a loss to Costa Rica in New Jersey last month, there was little margin for error.

Shocked American players slumped on the bench, and center back Matt Besler sat on the field after the final whistle as Panama's game ended and then Costa Rica's. Dejected U.S. players filed into their locker rooms with blank looks.

"You can go around in circles a million times over again, but the reality is that it was all there for us and we have nobody to blame but ourselves," U.S. captain Michael Bradley said.

Arena, a 66-year-old member of the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame, agreed with his usual bluntness.

"We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal," the coach said. "That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated."

Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the USSF, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.

"Every time you have a setback you have to look at things, re-evaluate and get better," 38-year-old goalkeeper Tim Howard said. "And as a program we have to get better. This hex proved that. There's some good teams on the up and up and we've got our work cut out for us."

Arena left his lineup unchanged from Friday's 4-0 rout of Panama in Florida, but the Americans couldn't generate the needed energy and emotion.

"Our center backs were not confident enough with the ball and really often in the first half we were playing eight against 10 because they really need to carry the ball and bring a player to the ball and then move it a little quicker," he said. "Our forwards were not able to hold the ball. They did a poor job there. We didn't get 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?"

Gonzalez said Jones' cross struck his left shin as he tried to prevent it from reaching Shahdon Winchester.

"One of the most unlucky goals ever," Gonzalez said. "It is one that will haunt me forever. ... I never thought that I'd see this day. This is the worst day of my career."

USSF President Sunil Gulati said the result felt unreal.

"It's a huge disappointment for everybody: for players, for the staff, for coaches, for the federation," Gulati said. "It's not good enough, obviously. In some sense, 2022 starts tomorrow for us."

LaVar Ball removing 16-year-old son LaMelo Ball from high school

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USA Today Images

LaVar Ball removing 16-year-old son LaMelo Ball from high school

LOS ANGELES -- LaVar Ball is pulling his 16-year-old son LaMelo out of his Southern California high school to be home schooled and so he can be made into "the best basketball player ever."

LaVar told The Los Angeles Times that LaMelo, a junior, will leave Chino Hills High School on Tuesday so he will have fewer distractions and better focus.

LaMelo is considered one of the nation's top high school recruits and has committed to play at UCLA, where his brother Lonzo played last season. Lonzo is now a rookie with the Los Angeles Lakers and their brother, LiAngelo, will be a freshman at UCLA.

LaMelo, who scored 92 points in a game for Chino Hills, will focus on playing for his father's travel team, Big Baller Brand.

LaVar has grabbed attention over the past year with exaggerated claims and headline-grabbing antics.

NBC Sports Regional Networks to align CSN & TCN properties under ‘NBC Sports’ Brand

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NBC Sports Regional Networks to align CSN & TCN properties under ‘NBC Sports’ Brand

STAMFORD, Conn. -- NBC Sports Regional Networks will align the remainder of its five CSN-branded networks, as well as two TCNs, on Oct. 2. The new names will incorporate “NBC Sports” with each of the networks’ regional designations. The announcement was made today by David Preschlack, President, NBC Sports Regional Networks and NBC Sports Group Platform and Content Strategy.

“We’re excited to complete the brand evolution of our remaining RSNs, which will now include the iconic NBC Sports name on all of our networks,” said Preschlack. “This development is a reaffirmation of our continued commitment to provide the best, most compelling local sports coverage to our fans across the country.”

The brand evolution will not impact the scheduled games, pre- and post-game shows, and other programming currently available on these networks.

CSN Chicago, CSN Northwest and CSN Philadelphia will combine “NBC Sports” with their current regional designations: NBC Sports Chicago, NBC Sports Northwest and NBC Sports Philadelphia. TCN will transition to NBC Sports Philadelphia +, and continue to house separate material produced by NBC Sports Philadelphia.

CSN Mid-Atlantic, TCN Mid-Atlantic and CSN New England will also adopt the city names used by their primary team partners, becoming NBC Sports Washington, NBC Sports Washington + and NBC Sports Boston, respectively.

The brand progression of the NBC Sports Regional Networks, which began in April with NBC Sports Bay Area and NBC Sports California, will be complete in advance of the 2017-18 NHL and NBA regular seasons. New York-based SNY will retain its name.

In addition to new names, the NBC Sports Regional Networks will feature enhanced logos and graphics. They will continue to feature the NBC Peacock, which was first integrated into the networks’ logos in 2012, the year after the formation of NBC Sports Group.

Many NBC Sports production, programming elements and on-air talent have been incorporated on the RSNs since the Comcast-NBCUniversal acquisition in 2011, much like NBCSN and Golf Channel. In addition to the integration of the NBC Peacock in 2012, “Comcast SportsNet” changed to “CSN” in 2016. Similarly, several NBC Sports Regional Networks collaborate with NBC Owned Television Stations in their respective markets on content and other initiatives.