Everyone knows what’s at stake for the U.S. Men’s National Team on Tuesday night. It’s been discussed for months and, with a win, they will finally be able to grasp a ticket to Russia.
Before the U.S. can escape CONCACAF, though, they must first handle one final challenge, and it’s one very befitting of a World Cup decider in the region.
The U.S. knows that a win on Tuesday in Trinidad & Tobago will lock up a spot in Russia. A draw would almost certainly be good enough as well, barring some sort of miracle from Panama and/or Honduras. A loss? Well, that would make things more interesting, especially if Mexico and Costa Rica can’t provide the USMNT with a bit of help.
“It’s never easy going into a game and saying, ‘we’re going to play for a point’. That’s difficult,” said USMNT boss Bruce Arena. “We’re going out to try and win the game.
“The team’s ready to play. They come in here with confidence, yet they realize that this is going to be very challenging. I think Trinidad is going to give us their best effort.”
On Tuesday, the U.S. won’t just have to battle with the Soca Warriors and the pressure the team continues to face with Russia on the line. They’ll also have to contend with the conditions and flooding that could certainly make Tuesday’s match a fairly messy affair.
Flooding all but ruined USMNT training on Monday and it could play a major impact on Tuesday’s match, for better or worse. Arena described the field as “little heavy and mushy”, while adding he expects a slow game that will require the U.S. to adapt throughout.
“Whatever the conditions are, they’re going to be the same for both teams,” Arena said. “I don’t think there’s any politics surrounding this. I don’t think a couple of years ago in Denver the U.S. had control of the climate and conditions, and I don’t think Trinidad is making it rain and all of that. It is what it is and we’re going to play the game.
“I would love to see one of these hot-shot teams from Europe come here and play in our CONCACAF qualifying, to really get a taste of this and see what that’s about. This is very challenging. This is like survival of the fittest. They could do one of those TV shows on this. Who will survive in the end? That’s basically what this is.”
In order to survive, the U.S. will need to contain a T&T attack that is dangerous despite what the Hexagonal standings suggest. The team is without one of its big stars in Kenwyne Jones while another, Kevin Molino, will miss out due to suspension. That puts pressure on Seattle Sounders star Joevin Jones, who has the speed to hit the U.S. on the break.
The U.S. has attacking threats as well. Christian Pulisic, Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood shined against Panama to put the U.S. back on the right track. Against a significantly less disciplined T&T backline, the U.S. attack knows just one or two goals could seal a spot in Russia.
Arena doesn’t expect to see much free-flowing attack, though. He expects a slugfest, one worthy of a final round of World Cup qualifying.
“I think it’s critically important for the U.S. to qualify for another World Cup. That’s why I’m here,” Arena said. “This is not really a personal thing. Nobody’s going to be doing a movie on me whether we win or lose. I think it’s important that we continue to grow the game in our country, and it’s more convincing to tell people that our game is growing when you continue to show up at World Cups every four years.”