Consider, first, the pitch conditions at the Ato Bolden Stadium:
Nothing about Tuesday night's World Cup qualifier (8 pm ET; BeIN Sports, NBC Universo) looks like it's going to be pleasant. There will be puddles, and there will be highlight-reel-for-all-the-wrong-reasons slide tackles, and I simply doubt that there will be much in the way of build-up play from either side.
Lucky bounces will be important, and set pieces will be especially important. It's one of those "just find a way to get a result" games, and if the Yanks manage that, they'll have officially punched their ticket to Russia.
What Trinidad & Tobago Will Do
• Sit deep and counter
The Soca Warriors had 32 percent of the ball in Friday's 3-1 loss at Mexico. They completed a decent-enough 69 percent of them, but that number cratered to below 30 percent in the attacking third, and zero percent on crosses. More than 25 percent of their passes were long-balls.
This is just pure, Route 1 goodness:
There's an obvious difference between playing at Mexico and playing at home, of course. T&T will be a little more aggressive in getting on the ball and trying to do actual soccer things, and
both Kevin Molino and(*) Joevin Jones will probably start, so the US can expect to see at least a few dangerous, inverted runs coming in off the wings of the likely 4-1-4-1 the Soca Warriors will trot out.
(*) Molino's out via yellow card accumulation. Thanks Phil!
But the basic gameplan will be the same on Tuesday as it was on Friday. Sit, be compact, then go long and direct as hell. And maybe in the process, ruin the USMNT's chances of going to the World Cup.
What the US Should Do
• Dominate in the air and on second balls
No Kenwyne Jones means no big, strong, dominant target forward for T&T, which should make knockdowns of those long-balls a little bit less dangerous (the above goal notwithstanding). Still, the Trinidadian forward contingent here aren't tiny, and they are not afraid to contest literally anything hoofed out of the back. And there will be tons of balls hoofed from the back.
The US need to win those first headers, and in guys like Geoff Cameron and Omar Gonzalez, they have the ability to do so. More important, though, is that they have to win those second balls at midfield once the header is either knocked down, or cleared back up into the scrum. Thus far that has simply not been a strong point for the US under Bruce Arena.
Part of the reason for that is Arena's habitually gambled upon leaving central midfield relatively barren in exchange for a more attack-oriented approach. We saw this in its glory on Friday, that 4-0 win over Panama fired by the US overwhelming the opposing defense with five attackers.
We could very well see the same thing at T&T. What I'd prefer, though, is this:
It's a 3-5-2/5-3-2. I chose Dax McCarty ahead of either Kellyn Acosta or Alejandro Bedoya as Michael Bradley's deep central midfield partner strictly because Dax is the best of the bunch at winning those second balls. I also chose Clint Dempsey over Jozy Altidore because Dempsey's a mudder – if there's anybody destined to score a record-breaking goal in a swamp, it's Deuce.
I also just want to get three center backs on the field. First, it helps when dealing with the inevitable fusillade of T&T punts. Second... set pieces. The US haven't been great (or even "good", really) defending them for half-a-decade now. Adding a third center back makes sense, given the stakes.
It also makes it much less likely that the US will be able to send numbers forward and just overwhelm the hell out of T&T like they did to Panama, but the field conditions would make that a risky strategy anyway. For this one, I'm content with the idea of a Dempsey – Bobby Wood – Christian Pulisic triumvirate with occasional up-the-flanks help from Jorge Villafaña or DeAndre Yedlin. That really should be enough.
A few more variables we'll tackle bullet-point style:
• Arena has been a big believer in squad rotation, so don't be surprised if we see the likes of Tim Ream and DaMarcus Beasley out on the field. YMMV on how much you approve or disapprove of this.
• People freaked out of Cameron not making an appearance on Friday, but I'm convinced it was because they didn't want to overwork his balky hamstring. He'd missed most of September for Stoke, only coming back last weekend – during which he played 90 minutes at the center of a back three.
The turnaround from Saturday-to-Friday was probably a little bit too tight. Now he's got an extra four days rest, and I'll bet you an arm he's in the XI.
• A win and the US are officially in. A draw would certainly do it as well, given current goal differential (the US are +5, Panama are -2 and Honduras are -7). A loss... a loss and the US could end anywhere from third to fifth place, depending upon other results.
It's all still there to play for.