What if the nightmare never happened?
What if Jozy Altidore's first-half chance had been taken well, or Clint Dempsey's second-half shot had hit net instead of post? What if a rainstorm hadn't hit Ato Bolden Stadium the day before, leading to comical scenes of a flooded field that eventually helped motivate Trinidad and Tobago on the way to a shocking 2-1 upset?
What-ifs are all Americans were left with on Monday as fans around the world reacted to the final World Cup rosters being unveiled. But for U.S. fans, it was like Christmas with no presents under the tree – only a reminder of the nightmare they endured six months ago.
It's only natural to wonder what a U.S. team would have looked like heading to Russia this summer. The team's recent friendlies don't do a whole lot to answer the question because the reality is that many of the young faces now being looked at wouldn't have been anywhere near a U.S. World Cup squad.
As much as some might refuse to admit it, many of the same players who were on the field in Couva, Trinidad last October would be on the plane to Russia this week if the Americans had qualified. But then again, that wouldn't have seemed so crazy to believe if last fall's nightmare failure hadn't happened in the first place.
When considering what a U.S. World Cup squad would have looked like, we must remember that it would most likely have been Bruce Arena doing the selecting. Given how much Arena has said in the wake of failing to qualify, it's clear he had his issues with some players.
Would he and Geoff Cameron have been able to make up in time for the 2018 World Cup? That question would have been especially pertinent with Omar Gonzalez falling out of favor at Pachuca.
Would Arena have given Timmy Chandler a serious look, or continued to ignore him? Was his snub of Fabian Johnson something that would have turned into a full-blown freezing out, or would Arena have brought Johnson back into the fold ahead of a trip to Russia?
From a talent standpoint, it's tough to argue against Chandler, Cameron and Johnson all being good enough to be on a mythical 2018 U.S. World Cup squad, but it could also have been easy to see Arena leaving them all home.
With all that in mind, here is a look at what a U.S. World Cup team could have looked like in Russia:
Brad Guzan, Zack Steffen, Tim Howard
Though he hasn't been part of a U.S. squad since the World Cup qualifying debacle, Guzan would have been the best bet to start in Russia. He has been in good form with Atlanta United, and has the experience to man the position.
Zack Steffen is in outstanding form, and is looking more and more like the front runner for the next generation. Bill Hamid's lack of playing time would have proved costly heading into a World Cup, though you wonder if Hamid would have taken the chance to jump to Europe if the U.S. had qualified for the World Cup.
Tim Howard has seen his game decline, but his unmatched experience would have made him tough to pass over as a third goalkeeper option. Who better for Steffen to learn from than the pair of Guzan and Howard?
MISSED THE CUT - Bill Hamid, Alex Bono, Nick Rimando, William Yarbrough
DeAndre Yedlin, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, Jorge Villafana, Tyler Adams, Matt Miazga, Tim Ream, Eric Lichaj
The big question mark in this group is whether Arena would take Gonzalez or Cameron. It might seem like a no-brainer that Arena would take Gonzalez, with whom he has a long history, and who he started ahead of Cameron in last October's decisive qualifiers. Both players endured rough 2018s, with Cameron losing his starting job at Stoke and Gonzalez spending a large part of the Clausura campaign out of the lineup for Pachuca. Gonzalez did make starts toward the end of the season though, and that could have helped Arena justify taking the 29-year-old.
Chandler is another player who absolutely should be in the picture, but his lackluster national-team performances led Arena to ignore him. If that were to continue, then Lichaj would have made sense as the backup left-back option, with Ream also providing cover there.
Arena would have been foolish not to take Adams, who provides versatility and energy. He would have been more than capable of being a viable right-back reserve, while also offering another option in midfield.
MISSED THE CUT - Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Tim Parker, Justin Morrow (injured), Graham Zusi, Timmy Chandler
Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, Weston McKennie, Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, Kenny Saief, Sebastian Lletget
It would have been interesting to see if Arena would have brought a healthy Fabian Johnson to Russia, but he has been injured for almost all of 2018, which would have made the manager's decision an easy one.
Without Johnson, Arena would have to consider a relative newcomer in Saief, who has unique attacking qualities the U.S. offense could have definitely used.
It would have been fun to see a potential Pulisic-Bradley-McKennie midfield work together. Now we will have to wait until the 2019 Gold Cup, if we ever see it at all.
MISSED THE CUT - Wil Trapp, Cristian Roldan, Rubio Rubin, Tim Weah, Danny Williams (injured), Fabian Johnson (injured)
Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Clint Dempsey, Gyasi Zardes
Altidore may seem like a surprise inclusion considering he had foot surgery in May, but when you consider the injury was something he had played with for some time, it's not a stretch to think the forward would have either had the surgery at the start of the year, or would have put it off until after the World Cup.
Wood isn't exactly coming off a stellar year at Hamburg, but his efforts with the national team would have made him a good candidate to start. Dempsey isn't in the midst of a good year either in Seattle, but his track record in World Cups suggests he would have gotten up for games in Russia.
And if Altidore hadn't been able to play? Arena would have been scrounging for forward options given some of the injuries to the current pool. Might he have considered bringing 18-year-old Josh Sargent, despite the fact he has yet to play a pro game? Based on Arena's own comments, that would have been highly unlikely. The projected absence of Sargent and Tim Weah from this squad might aggravate some fans to even contemplate, but it should be noted that there is no player in the World Cup as young as Weah or Sargent.
Given all the injuries at the forward position, you have to wonder whether Arena might have considered bringing Landon Donovan to Russia. It seems far-fetched, especially since Donovan didn’t play much for Club Leon in his return from retirement, but Arena could have looked at his forward options and decided giving Donovan a fourth World Cup could produce some magic, even in a reserve role.
MISSED THE CUT - Jordan Morris (injured), Aron Johannsson (injured), Dom Dwyer (injured), C.J. Sapong, Andrija Novakovich, Josh Sargent