The United States takes on Trinidad & Tobago tonight in Florida with the top spot in CONCACAF’s group C up for grabs. Technically, the US is under some pressure to get a result. A loss tonight - which would mean the Soca Warriors getting their first-ever win over the USMNT on American soil - and a win for Guatemala over St. Vincent & the Grenadines would see a tie for second place. Of course, with goal difference the first tiebreaker and the US on +13 while Guatemala sits on +1, it seems highly unlikely that the US could go out.
Nonetheless, qualifying has not gone smoothly given the available talent in the US pool. It was telling to see folks talking themselves into the rout of Vincy Heat as being a noteworthy result despite the fact that St. Vincent & the Grenadines fielded a team featuring a few semi-pros. On paper, the US should have rolled through this group, but the team has not really been meeting their potential for years now.
As such, a team like Trinidad & Tobago - on the upswing for about a year after nearly a decade of federation-influenced struggles - will not walk onto the field in Jacksonville with fear tonight. If the US is going to win this group as expected, they’ll need to demonstrate that the reputation of their players is deserved. We’ve been critical of Jurgen Klinsmann here on a regular basis, but the players on the field bear significant responsibility towards getting the USMNT’s “aura” back. Winning tonight would restore some of that nervousness that CONCACAF opponents used to have when playing in the US.
As far as the lineup goes, many fans are clamoring to see Sacha Kljestan and Christian Pulisic start after impressing off the bench Friday. However, given Jurgen Klinsmann’s reticence to even call in Kljestan for so long - despite his success in a position the US needs help at - and his confusing stance on young players (“teens should be nipping on the heels of starters!” but also “we need to be extraordinarily patient with young players”), I’m not sure too many people are truly expecting them to get the start.
Instead, let’s talk about another situation: DeAndre Yedlin is suspended, and befitting a Klinsmann tradition, there is no obvious replacement in the squad. Geoff Cameron, Kellyn Acosta, and Fabian Johnson are the most likely options, but all three are clearly better elsewhere. If Cameron is shuttled to the right, Omar Gonzalez and D.C. United’s Steve Birnbaum will be options at center back. If Acosta switches sides, we could see Johnson at left back, or Matt Besler playing there. There’s also the possibility of moving Johnson to right back and playing Darlington Nagbe in his midfield spot, or using Birnbaum as a right back, or playing a 352, or...well, you get the idea.
Trinidad & Tobago lineup:
T&T starting Xl: Phillip, David, Abu Bakr, Mitchell, Williams, Hyland, Boucaud, Garcia, J Jones, Molino, K Jones (C). #USAvTRI— Nathan Carr (@caribbeanftbl) September 6, 2016
Location: EverBank Field (Jacksonville, FL)
Kickoff time: 8:00 p.m. ET
Available TV: Fox Sports 1 (English), UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go (English), Fox Soccer 2Go (English), Univision Deportes app (Spanish)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.