World Cup Qualifying Preview
U.S. Expecting a Tough Test From T&T in Port of Spain
November 16, 2015
PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO—A major talking point for the United States men's national team in the lead up to Tuesday's 2018 World Cup qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago has been to establish how difficult the game will be. T&T away presents a much different challenge than St. Vincent and the Grenadines in St. Louis.
"They are going to play at home," head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said on Sunday. "They have their crowd. They are feeling comfortable there. These are very difficult games in CONCACAF. If it's for us, if it's for Mexico, for other teams, it's the same: You have to go there and get a result."
Klinsmann reiterated the theme in a press conference on Monday.
"We expect a very difficult game. It's a good team. They’ve proven that throughout the entire year. They've done very well. They won in Guatemala. Those are the games where you get tested to your limit."
There's even a Web page on USSoccer.com devoted to the "Difficulty of Trinidad and Tobago," which shows that the previous nine matches between the two clubs in Port of Spain have all been decided by one goal or less. (The U.S. is 5-2-2 all-time and 3-0-1 over the last four World Cup qualifying cycles.) In 2009, it took a 61st-minute laser from Ricardo Clark to escape with three points.
The focus is a way to mitigate expectations, and players old and young have gotten the message. In fact, they are repeating the mantra.
"We've all talked about how it's going to be a battle out there physically and mentally and it's something you have to be prepared for," Bobby Wood said.
Tim Howard, who has been through a few of these battles before and will make his 30th World Cup qualifying start on Tuesday, knows that the blueprint to qualify for the World Cup is to win your home games and "try to nick something on the road." He wants a win—obviously—but believes that a point would be fine.
He's not wrong.
A point in T&T would go a long way toward securing a place in the final round of World Cup qualification. This is likely to be the Americans' toughest test, with Guatemala boasting a more difficult environment but not nearly the level of talent and organization that head coach Stephen Hart has in the Soca Warriors.
But the game is never just about the game. With rumors swirling that Klinsmann's position is tenuous, is he worried about what a loss might mean?
He deflected the question, saying, "I would never go into a game thinking that I was going to lose."
Still, there's a real chance that a loss could mean the end of the Jurgen Klinsmann Era for U.S. Soccer. (Earlier this week, Sunil Gulati did not say that Klinsmann wouldn't be fired should the American fall in Port of Spain.) The match might be more about how the U.S. team plays rather than the result. Can the Americans show progress and control the match against a game opponent in a hostile environment?
"You try to play your game and set the tone," the head coach said about his plan of attack. "Play high-tempo football and try to find ways to score goals. And that's what we're going to try to do tomorrow night."
Noah Davis is Deputy Editor of American Soccer Now. Follow him on Twitter.