U.S. Happy to Escape Port of Spain With a Single Point
November 18, 2015
PORT OF SPAIN, TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO–A Movie Towne showing first-run films sits across the street from Hasely Crawford Stadium, where the United States took on the Soca Warriors in Tuesday night's World Cup qualifier. Spectators sitting on the east side of the stadium could see the theater's neon sign, visible across the field where the two teams battled through 90 minutes of intense soccer.
While you wouldn't call the proceedings a thriller, it wasn't a horror show, either. Neither side could find the back of the net and it ended 0-0, a result that will leave both squads satisfied.
"At the end of the day, if you take one point away, that's all right," American manager Jurgen Klinsmann said following the gritty affair.
"Getting a tie here means that you leave [other group members Guatemala and St. Vincent and the Grenadines] behind you, and I think this is very important."
Tim Howard, a veteran of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, agreed that it was an acceptable, if not perfect, result: "We've gone on the road and lost the first game, so this was a good point."
The home team took the early initiative, pressing forward and earning a few early chances. But, as he did against Friday against St. Vincent, Klinsmann and his coaching crew made a tactical change that rebalanced the formation and tipped the scales in favor of the Americans.
"It took us a little bit to find the balance in midfield with Michael [Bradley] and Jermaine [Jones], especially going forward because they were too often next to each other instead of staggering," the coach said. "We corrected that after about 25 minutes and told Michael to go higher up."
While the pace of T&T's wingers presented a problem for the U.S., their most dangerous threat was Kenwyne Jones. The team looked to play to the head of the tall center forward, a teammate of Geoff Cameron's at Stoke City. For the most part, the American backline pairing of Cameron and Matt Besler bottled up the big man.
(The T&T supporters are mixed in their support for Jones. He drew the loudest pre-game ovation, spurred by the announcer's cry of, "make some noise for your number 9, Kenwyne Jones!" but they don't love his aerial game. "He'll never be Dwight Yorke," a local journalist told me, referencing the country's smooth, charismatic attacking talisman of the 1990s and 2000s.)
In the second half, the Americans created a couple high-quality opportunities, including a header that Gyasi Zardes doinked off the crossbar instead of slamming into an open net. Afterward, Klinsmann praised the foward's movement and the timing of his runs, saying that next time he'll score.
How you view this statement, and the match in general, depends on your point of view about the state of the red, white, and blue. If you want to get negative, there's plenty to take away: stretches with little cohesive possession, only a few moments where a goal looked likely, the lack of killer instinct, a draw. If you're a glass half full person, there were moments, too: a solid backline, a good spirit, a step forward after a summer of misteps.
The truth is somewhere in the middle. A little good, a little bad, a lot of scrap.
"These games are always the same," Michael Bradley said. "What makes them different is if you can take your chance."
Could the Americans have won? Sure. (But they also could have lost.) Should they have won? Perhaps.
"Chances were on both sides. I think we had the clearer ones," the ever-optimistic Klinsmann said. "We should have put one in of those."
They didn't. They need to be better going forward. We know that. They know that. Everyone knows that. But T&T is the most difficult opponent they will face in this round, and draws on the road will get the Stars and Stripes to the Hexagonal. It's not pretty. It is effective.
Two games down, four to go. The Road to Russia is only just beginning.
"Point on the road," Howard said. "All's well, I think."
Noah Davis is Deputy Editor of American Soccer Now. Follow him on Twitter.