USA vs. TRINIDAD & TOBAGO
Thursday, June 8, 8 pm ET
Dick's Sporting Goods Park, Commerce City, Colorado
TV: FS1, UniMás, UDN, Follow on the MLS App
USA resume their campaign to climb back up the CONCACAF Hexagonal standings and into a place at Russia 2018 on Thursday, hosting Trinidad & Tobago in a World Cup qualifying match that the Yanks both expect and need to win.
After a 1-3 start to the Hex, Trinidad are the only team in the six-team group with fewer points than the USMNT, who are 12-1-3 all-time in qualifying meetings with the Soca Warriors, including a 7-0-1 mark at home. In fact, T&T have not even scored against the Yanks in these games for more than 20 years, and have to hark all the way back to 1989 to recall their sole point on US soil.
But the Americans’ margin for error is still tight as they continue to recover from their 0-2 start to this round, and the weekend’s visit to Mexico at mighty Estadio Azteca looms large. Given those high stakes, coach Bruce Arena and his men will be eager to assert themselves early and often in this mile-high clash at DSG Park, home of the Colorado Rapids.
A 6-0 victory over Honduras and a 1-1 draw at Panama in March stabilized the Yanks’ Hex fortunes after November’s losses to Mexico and Costa Rica frightened US Soccer’s leadership enough to prompt the dismissal of head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
That said, with four points from four matches, the USMNT remain well back of runaway leaders Mexico and look to be in a keen race with Costa Rica, Panama and Honduras for the other two automatic qualification slots. A fourth-place finish would offer a back door to Russia via an intercontinental playoff with an Asian side, but that’s a jittery path they’d rather not contemplate just yet.
The Denver area was chosen for Thursday’s match to help players make the physiological adaptation to the lung-burning thin air that awaits them in Mexico City, and Arena duly set up camp in Colorado last week. Saturday’s 1-1 friendly draw with Venezuela at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah also fit into the process, though poor set-piece defending, an injury to defender John Brooks and some wobbly stretches of play gave the technical staff plenty to think about.
“You mark a guy and beat him to the ball, and when the ball is cleared and played back in, you have to stay with your man and beat him to the ball,” said Arena after Jose Manuel Velazquez scored the Vinotinto’s goal via some ragged corner-kick defending by the US. “It’s simply individual breakdowns. The players have to do better.
“At times we played well; the final product [in attack] wasn’t very good,” added the USMNT boss. “It was good to get to know each other a little bit. When will we find out if we’re ready for Thursday night? On Thursday night.”
Trinidad & Tobago Outlook
While Yanks fans might be feeling nervous, the picture is quite grim for the Soca Warriors, who sit in last place in the Hex with a 1-3 record and two home losses already. Like the US, they opened the round with two losses and responded by firing their coach, Stephen Hart.
However, Hart’s replacement Tom Saintfiet lasted barely a month on the job, overseeing a loss to Haiti in 2017 Gold Cup qualifying before stepping down, citing a lack of support from the Trinidad & Tobago Football Federation.
Dennis Lawrence, a steady defender from the country’s legendary 2006 World Cup team, took the reins and oversaw a home win over Panama in March. But Mexico won in Port-of-Spain four days later, leaving T&T facing a steep climb to get back into anything approaching World Cup contention. And the road ahead is tough: The Caribbean side visit Costa Rica on Tuesday and still have to visit Azteca in October.
The Soca Warriors will look to their MLS-based contingent for inspiration, with Minnesota United playmaker Kevin Molino, Atlanta United striker Kenwyne Jones and the Seattle Sounders’ marauding fullback/winger Joevin Jones key components of the attack.
But they’ll face the US without Cordell Cato after Lawrence dismissed the San Jose Earthquakes winger for a disciplinary reasons. Cato reportedly arrived at T&T’s Denver training camp with his family in tow, violating previously-agreed terms in Lawrence’s view.
As aforementioned, the Yanks have been fairly dominant in this matchup, with a 16-2-4 overall record against the islanders. The USA’s only loss to T&T in qualifying came on Oct. 15, 2008, a semifinal-round meeting in Port-of-Spain where the visitors did not field a full-strength lineup on account of the fact that they’d already clinched advancement to the Hex.
The two nations met in the semifinal round of the current cycle, drawing 0-0 in Trinidad in November 2015 before the USMNT dominated in a 4-0 victory in Jacksonville, Florida nearly a year later that won top spot in CONCACAF Group C. From the Soca Warriors’ perspective, the most painful chapter in this rivalry was written on Nov. 19, 1989, when Paul Caliguiri scored “The Shot Heard ‘Round The World,” earning the Yanks a 1-0 upset victory in Port-of-Spain, booking the USA’s first World Cup berth since 1950 at the direct expense of T&T.
Players to Watch
USA – Clint Dempsey
After missing the latter half of 2016 due to an irregular heartbeat, the Sounders’ ageless attacker has returned to action with a bang, scoring four goals and an assist in MLS play and bagging a hat trick in March’s US rout of Honduras. He now stands just one goal shy of the all-time USMNT scoring record of 57 held by his former international teammate Landon Donovan. Will he pass the milestone in this week’s crucial qualifiers?
Trinidad & Tobago – Kenwyne Jones
The strapping targetman has been a role player for Atlanta in their strong inaugural season, thanks largely to the abundance of attacking talent at coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s disposal. Jones remains an integral component for his country, however, who are depending on him to anchor their front line with calm finishing and powerful hold-up play. He’ll need to work industriously on both sides of the ball if the Soca Warriors are to snatch a result in Colorado.
Goalkeepers (4): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)
Defenders (10): Matt Besler (Sporting KC), John Brooks (Wolfsburg), DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Geoff Cameron (Stoke), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United), Graham Zusi (Sporting KC)
Midfielders (8): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Trinidad & Tobago Roster
Goalkeepers (3): Jan Michael Williams, Marvin Phillip, Adrian Foncette
Defenders (9): Radanfah Abu Bakr, Sheldon Bateau, Curtis Gonzales, Daneil Cyrus, Mekeil Williams, Triston Hodge, Alvin Jones, Carlos Edwards, Aubrey David
Midfielders (9): Hashim Arcia, Andre Boucaud, Kevan George, Hughtun Hector, Khaleem Hyland, Joevin Jones, Nathan Lewis, Kevin Molino, Leston Paul
Forwards (3): Shahdon Winchester, Jamille Boatswain, Kenwyne Jones