The United States responded to a desperate need for at least four points in their last pair of World Cup qualifiers by getting exactly four points. It stopped the bleeding, but tonight against Trinidad and Tobago, they still find themselves in a situation where a loss - or even a draw - would be a major problem. For the USMNT, both due to the Hexagonal standings and the simple difference in talent between the Yanks and the Soca Warriors, a win is a must.
The math for the US is simple. With Mexico (10 points) and Costa Rica (7 points) hosting Honduras and Panama, it is quite doubtful that the USMNT will gain any ground on them even with a win. Even with a very favorable final four games, there’s a decent chance the US will still be sitting in fourth place - that is, facing a playoff against an Asian nation - heading into that stretch.
Simply put, failure to win tonight would undo the work done back in March. That cannot happen if the USMNT wants to avoid all-or-nothing games in October.
Key player: Fabian Johnson
The Borussia Moenchengladbach wide man wasn’t available for the last set of qualifiers, though the US managed without him well enough (and by that I mean they scored seven goals in two games). Getting Johnson back is huge for Bruce Arena, as it allows him to set up a dirt-simple 442 (i.e. easy to teach on short notice) that will still trouble any team in CONCACAF. Arena has made a career out of keeping his tactics simple and allowing his most skillful players to have some freedom to flourish.
That will be what we see tonight. Arena will be betting that giving some license to roam and find the game to Johnson on one side and Christian Pulisic on the other - along with a forward duo that is more than strong enough to cause the Soca Warriors nightmares - will simply overwhelm Trinidad & Tobago, no matter how organized they are. It’s a solid bet, but it only works if Johnson (and Pulisic, for that matter) turn that tactical freedom into tangible results.
Location: Dick’s Sporting Goods Park (Commerce City, CO)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Projected USA starting 11: (442) - Tim Howard; DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, Tim Ream, Jorge Villafaña; Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Alejandro Bedoya, Fabian Johnson; Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore
Bench: Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando, Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, DaMarcus Beasley, Paul Arriola, Dax McCarty, Kellyn Acosta, Darlington Nagbe, Jordan Morris, Bobby Wood
Bruce Arena used a diamond-ish midfield in the 6-0 demolition of Honduras the last time the US hosted a qualifier, but that was with Johnson unavailable. Fit again, he’s a virtual lock to return to the lineup. Elsewhere, I suspect that Arena will start Bedoya over Acosta due to his experience, despite the fact that Acosta should be in any US starting eleven at this point.
Villafaña gets the nod at left back over Beasley, who will be held in reserve for the trip to Mexico. I suspect that Arena, knowing that three points tonight is a must, will start his first-choice forward duo against a weaker opponent, which also allows him to save the faster Wood for Sunday’s game (which will feature a larger emphasis on counter-attacking play). Finally, John Brooks and his iffy quad will be held out for Sunday, with Ream perfectly capable of filling in against this T&T squad.
Look for Arena to make his subs midway through the second half if the scoreline allows for it. If Johnson and Pulisic can comfortably be given half an hour of rest, the US needs to take advantage.
Projected Trinidad & Tobago starting 11: (4231) - Jan-Michael Williams; Aubrey David, Curtis Gonzales, Daneil Cyrus, Mekeil Williams; Kevan George, Khaleem Hyland; Shahdon Winchester, Kevin Molino, Joevin Jones; Kenwyne Jones
Cordell Cato was controversially tossed out of camp after showing up with his family in tow (heaven forbid someone be surrounded by loved ones), which leaves Dennis Lawrence having to fill a spot on the right wing. Look for former FC Dallas utility defender Aubrey David to play right back as a result, with speedster Shahdon Winchester slotting in as the right winger in a low block 4231. Carlos Edwards could also be involved, either as an attacking fullback or a conservative wide presence in midfield. Andre Boucaud could slot in as a third central midfielder (with Kevin Molino wide right in a 4141) if Lawrence wants to well and truly park the bus.
When it comes to impact subs...well, there aren’t many candidates. This was a team that really couldn’t afford to lose Cato. Edwards will probably get into this one at some point, while attackers Hughton Hector and Jamille Boatswain are also candidates.
Referee: Oscar Moncada
Available TV: Fox Sports 1 (English), UniMas (Spanish), Univision Deportes (Spanish)
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go (English), Univision Now (Spanish), Univision Deportes app (Spanish)
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: Posting up at Dock FC for this one, so if you’re there come say hi. Most likely going with a Guinness, but we’ll see what’s on tap when I arrive. What I am sure about: tacos. There will be tacos.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.