Trinidad and Tobago’s roster for Sunday’s friendly versus the US men's national team in Orlando does include Alvin Jones, a name that will remain a haunting footnote in American soccer history thanks to the former Real Salt Lake man’s game-winner on that muggy night in Couva three-plus years ago.
Still, most of the names and faces have changed since the Soca Warriors’ shock win over the USMNT on the final night of 2018 Concacaf World Cup qualifying. You wouldn’t know that from Walker Zimmerman’s words on the subject this week, though.
“We certainly always are going to have a chip on our shoulder whenever we play Trinidad,” said the Nashville SC center back, a strong contender to captain the USMNT at Exploria Stadium. “We got the chance to rectify that in [the 2019] Gold Cup, and we put on a really strong performance, it was very inspired and passionate. And so I think I expect nothing less from our group of guys on Sunday.
“I think we'll be ready, motivated, for many reasons, and it's always going to be a big game for us moving forward.”
That meaty declaration is just what coaches and fans alike love to hear, and it was one of several statements of intent from this young team’s veterans as the national team strides into a massive 2021 that's likely to require both effective tactics and a nasty streak.
Even with a predominantly Under-23 squad, at the start of a year that head coach Gregg Berhalter has estimated could require as many as 40 players to contribute significantly, this group sounds keen to embrace and exude the increasingly assertive identity flashed in the past two camps.
“We’ve evolved a lot in terms of refining the pool, getting a lot of guys experience,” noted Zimmerman, “and then also kind of evolving in our playing. I think what you're seeing this year, or will see a lot more this year, is our ability to high press and be really aggressive on the pressing front. And I don't think we did that quite as much in the early games under Gregg.”
Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, the fourth-most experienced international on the current roster, pointed to two of the toughest opponents of Berhalter’s first year in charge as lessons that led the Yanks toward their current outlook.
“At the international level, it's really difficult to get the ball, because you're playing against the best of the best,” said Roldan. “If you can have a really good pressing setup, and you can get the ball quick, I think we'll be more dangerous in front of goal. So I think that's credit to [Berhalter] and the rest of the coaching staff. … We found it very difficult to get the ball against Chile and Mexico at times. But I think that's something that I'm looking forward to doing.”
A European-based side took the game to both Wales and Panama in the USMNT’s November camp, and a domestic lineup did the same against El Salvador last month. Seeing the red of Trinidad and Tobago can only fuel the desire to match that this weekend.
“I think he sees the player profiles that we have, the tenacity and energy and the youth that we can bring with a little bit more press,” Zimmerman said of Berhalter. “So that's something to definitely look forward to when you’re watching the game and something that we as players have kind of taken ownership of. We’re going to be a team that hunts the ball, we’re going to win it back and we're going to try and create goal-scoring opportunities from that pressure.”
Multiple players have alluded to high levels of intensity in the USMNT environment, and now Sunday represents a chance to mesh that with the patterns and assignments Berhalter has emphasized this month.
“Collectively we want to be better defining how we're finishing attacks. We want that to be more clear in games, we want the runs to be more clear in the penalty box, the service to be more clear depending on the positions we’re in,” Berhalter said at the start of camp. “That's going to be really important. And then I think the next step, which is always important in qualifying, is transition moments, both offense and defense, we can continue to improve. And that's going to be something we focus on.”