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LISTEN: Thursday is a must-win for the US national team, and ETR has an exhaustive preview to get you ready. Trinidad & Tobago journalist Lasana Liburd explains why players keep getting sent home by Soca Warriors head coaches, and the guys try to predict Bruce Arena's XI and gameplan. Plus, more on Alphonso Davies' decision to rep Canada! Subscribe now so you never miss a show! Download the show!
MLS has long been a safe haven for some of the best soccer players the Caribbean has on offer. Shalrie Joseph (Grenada), Ezra Hendrickson (St. Vincent and the Grenadines) and Atiba Harris (St. Kitts and Nevis) are three of the shiniest examples, each of whom has at least 17,000 career minutes logged in MLS.
But no island nation in the warm, boundless waters between the US and South America is producing soccer players for MLS with the regularity of Trinidad and Tobago right now.
The domestic backdrop for the US’s critical 2018 World Cup qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday in Colorado (8 pm ET | FS1, UniMas, UDN) is hard to miss. The island nation anchored just off the coast of Venezuela has four players on its 24-man roster for the match currently stationed in MLS: Kenwyne Jones (Atlanta United), Joevin Jones (Seattle Sounders), Mekeil Williams (Colorado Rapids) and Kevin Molino (Minnesota United). That number is handily higher than any other foreign league represented on the qualifying roster.
Here's a glimpse at those four MLS players, and what you might expect to see from each on Thursday.
Where he’ll play: Outside midfield
What to expect: Lots of running
Joevin Jones’ club experience differs pretty dramatically from what you’re liable to see on the international stage. Sounders fans watched Jones progress into arguably the league’s most dynamic left wingback the last two years, but he’s an out-and-out attacking winger in the midfield for Trinidad and Tobago. The deployment unhinges his defensive responsibilities, but it also removes his greatest danger as an overlapping added attacker used to flood swamped opposing fullbacks.
That doesn’t mean Jones isn’t a clear and present danger for country, because he’s still a nightmare when he catches defenders flat. That goes double considering his current run of form, which has him playing at a consistently higher level than at any time in his career. The question is merely whether he’s as dangerous when he isn’t sprinting from deeper launch points.
Where he’ll play: Left back
What to expect: Traditional hard-tackling, stand-up defending
Of Trinidad and Tobago’s defensive corps, none are perhaps quite as versatile as Williams. He can play along the entirety of the backline, including both fullback spots and up the middle. He’s even played in the defensive midfield for country before, although if he plays – and he most likely will – it’ll be on the backline. And most likely at left back, his most natural position as a left-footed player with defensive sensibilities. He won’t raid like Jones would, but as a spatial defender he can hold his own.
Williams had a healthy stretch of starts at left back for the Rapids earlier this year, but he was sent off in a 1-0 loss to Vancouver on May 5, and he hasn’t started any of the Rapids’ five games since. He entered international camp with four first-team minutes under his belt in a month, which could hinder his sharpness come match time. But Williams is familiar with Colorado and altitude, which should give him an inside track.
Where he’ll play: Attacking midfield
What to expect: Copious amounts of open-field danger
Minnesota United gave up a lot to secure Kevin Molino in time for the 2017 season. That was in large part due to his former coach Adrian Heath, who oversaw Molino’s development at Orlando City and now does so in Minnesota. The reason Heath was so keen to secure Molino was because his skill set is so rare and generally coveted. Molino is an attacking dervish, constantly spinning into space and challenging defenders’ footwork. Molino has been generally out of favor on the national team scene and missed the last few qualifiers, but his inclusion means you can likely expect to see him on Thursday night.
Molino’s dynamism in the attacking third is more or less unmatched on this roster. He’s also in ripping form for Minnesota United, with five goals and three assists to his name over the first three months of the MLS season. Wherever he’s positioned, either as the central creator or as the other wide peg opposite Jones, the US has to be wary of his open-field terror.
Where he’ll play: Target striker
What to expect: Lots of bruising hold-up play
Whatever Kenwyne Jones’ role on the club scene, there’s never been any doubt about his bonafides as one of the best to ever lace them up for Trinidad and Tobago. In fact, Jones is so highly regarded in his home country that he carries the “CM” designator next to his name. The Chaconia Medal is only awarded to 10 people annually and is the second-highest medal awarded by Trinidad and Tobago for meritorious service. Jones’ 23 goals for his country over more than a decade of service have clearly not gone unnoticed.
On the field, it certainly seems as though the 32-year-old classic No. 9 is slowing down. He’s been an on-and-off starter for Atlanta, where he’s bagged two goals in 416 minutes in 2017. Jones is more of a stalking poacher in the box, and whatever squalls hit him for club, he’s been unerringly consistent for country. Despite the advancement of age he remains one of CONCACAF’s most dangerous strikers, and he’ll test the physical marking abilities of whoever Bruce Arena chooses to go with at center back.