After months of hand-wringing, nail-biting and breath-holding, the US national team are finally in firm control of their World Cup qualification campaign.
Win in their CONCACAF Hexagonal finale at Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday night, and they’re in.
A draw would likely do the trick, too.
A loss would make things a lot more complicated.
The US are currently in third in the Hex on 12 points, two points ahead of both fourth-place Panama and fifth-place Honduras. Crucially, they hold a significant goal difference advantage on both teams. Barring a huge outpouring of goals by Los Canaleros or Los Catrachos, a draw against Trinidad will probably be enough for the US to snag CONCACAF’s third and final automatic spot in Russia next summer.
A defeat would dramatically change the dynamic. Losing to the Soca Warriors would open the US to a fifth-place finish and their first missed World Cup since 1986. Finishing fourth and taking on Australia or Syria in a World Cup qualification playoff would also be a distinct possibility with a loss on Tuesday. The US could finish third with a loss if both Panama and Honduras fail to win their qualifying finales, but that’s not something Bruce Arena & Co. will want to count on.
Fortunately for the US, they’ll be the heavy favorites on Tuesday. The Americans looked excellent in their 4-0 win against Panama on Friday, and Trinidad & Tobago are 1-8-0 in the Hex after losing 3-1 at Mexico on Friday.
United States Outlook
After a wildly disappointing 2-0 home loss to Costa Rica and a disjointed 1-1 draw at Honduras in September, the US broke out in a big way on Friday against Panama. Christian Pulisic notched a goal and an assist, Jozy Altidore recorded a brace and Bobby Wood added a goal as the US romped to a 4-0 win to put their World Cup qualifying hopes back on track.
Arena put the US in a very aggressive posture on Friday, rolling out a 4-4-2 diamond formation designed to put five players – strikers Altidore and Wood, No. 10 Pulisic and wingers Darlington Nagbe and Paul Arriola – into the attack as often as possible.
That will likely change in the Caribbean midweek. Even though Trinidad & Tobago are the weakest team in the Hex, the US will be playing on the road and only need a draw to qualify. Those circumstances lend themselves to a more conservative approach than we saw against Panama, so don’t be surprised if Arena give defensive midfielder Michael Bradley – who flew solo on Friday – a little more help in the middle.
Trinidad & Tobago Outlook
Tuesday’s match is about nothing more than pride for Trinidad & Tobago. The Soca Warriors haven’t had much hope of qualifying for the World Cup for some time, and had their hopes of advancing to Russia officially ended following the US’ win on Friday.
While they were already eliminated from contention, Trinidad & Tobago put up a good fight at already-qualified Mexico on Friday. The island nation actually took the lead in the 66th minute, when Shahdon Winchester scored to give the Soca Warriors a 1-0 lead. Mexico responded 12 minutes later with a Hirving Lozano equalizer before Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez bagged an 88th minute winner. Midfielder Hector Herrera added an insurance tally in the fourth minute of stoppage time.
The US has dominated the series against Trinidad & Tobago, posting a 14-3-4 all-time record against the Soca Warriors. The US has won the last two meetings and is unbeaten in five against T&T. The Americans recorded a 2-0 victory against the Soca Warriors in the last match between the sides in the Hex on June 9 in Commerce City, Colorado.
Players to Watch
USA – Clint Dempsey
Pulisic and Altidore rightly drew the headlines on Friday, but Dempsey, who entered as a second half sub against Panama, has a shot at history on Tuesday night. The Seattle Sounders forward is currently tied with Landon Donovan for the all-time USMNT goal lead, needing just one more tally to make the record his own. He’s largely been used as sub in recent USMNT matches, but Arena could very well give him a start on Tuesday. If he is in the lineup, Dempsey should have plenty of chances to move past Donovan and into sole possession of first on the USMNT scoring chart.
Trinidad & Tobago – Kevin Molino
The Minnesota United FC midfielder is one of Trinidad & Tobago’s most dynamic players, and will likely get the start on Tuesday after being used off the bench in Mexico on Friday night. The 27-year-old is in fine form in MLS, recording two goals and two assists and helping the Loons to three wins in their last four games before heading out on international duty. If T&T cause trouble on Tuesday night, he’ll likely be in the middle of it.
Defenders (9): DaMarcus Beasley (Houston), Matt Besler (Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke, England), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, Mexico), Michael Orozco (Tijuana, Mexico), Tim Ream (Fulham, England), Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna, Mexico), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle, England), Graham Zusi (Kansas City)
Midfielders (9): Kellyn Acosta (Dallas), Juan Agudelo (New England), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia), Michael Bradley (Toronto), Benny Feilhaber (Kansas City), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund, Germany)
Trinidad & Tobago
Goalkeepers (3): Adrian Foncette (Police, T&T), Greg Ranjitsingh (Louisville), Glenroy Samuel (Morvant Caledonia United, T&T)
Defenders (9): Daneil Cyrus (Juticalpa, HON), Kevan George (Jacksonville), Curtis Gonzales (Defence Force, T&T), Mekeil Williams (Colorado), Alvin Jones (W Connection, T&T), Tristan Hodge (W Connection, T&T), Kareem Moses (North Carolina), Kevon Villaroel (North East Stars, T&T), Josiah Trimmingham (San Juan Jabloteh, T&T)
Midfielders (9): Khaleem Hyland (Al-Faisaly, KSA), Joevin Jones (Seattle), Kevin Molino(Minnesota), Leston Paul (Pasaquina, SLV), Nathan Lewis (San Juan Jabloteh, T&T), Levi Garcia (AZ Alkmaar, NED), Jared London (Club Sando, T&T), Neil Benjamin (W Connection, T&T), Kathon St. Hillaire (St. Ann’s Rangers, T&T)
Forwards (3): Shahdon Winchester (Murciealagos, MEX), Trevin Caesar (Sacramento), Akeem Roach (Vida, HON)