While the U.S. men’s national team’s last trip to Trinidad & Tobago ended with the heartbreak of not reaching the 2018 FIFA World Cup, the current group of players is focused on the present ahead of a potential return to the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals.
Gregg Berhalter’s side holds a 3-0 aggregate lead over the Soca Warriors ahead of Monday’s second leg showdown in Port of Spain. The previous USMNT visit to Port of Spain occurred in 1990, where Paul Caligiuri’s game-winner sealed a 1-0 victory in World Cup Qualifying, a result that ended the Americans’ 40-year absence from the World Cup.
Caligiuri was recent invited to speak to the current USMNT squad last week ahead of Monday’s return to Trinidad & Tobago, which continued the connection between the past and present.
“We actually had Paul in, connecting the past with the present. I was only a couple years old, I think, at that time so I don’t remember it but you hear and we’ve seen highlights of that game,” veteran defender Tim Ream said Sunday. “Without that goal, without qualifying for the 1990 World Cup, potentially we’re not sitting here again. Being able to connect the past with the present during this camp has been nice and it is something that we’ve discussed and touched on.
“For everybody, it’s personal when they move on, when they move past it,” he added. “I think for me, it was, I’d say the 2019 Gold Cup. I believe we played Trinidad, if I recall correctly, and that was kind of the moment for me and then as a whole, as a squad, I’d definitely say it was going into the World Cup last year, when the guys qualified for that and put the wrongs of the past on a better path.”
Several changes could occur in Berhalter’s starting lineup to keep the USMNT fresh and ready to go. Weston McKennie departed camp on Saturday due to a knee injury, opening the door for Lennard Maloney, Luca De La Torre, or Paxten Aaronson to all potentially see time in his absence.
McKennie was the victim of two aggressive fouls by T&T’s Noah Powder in the first leg, which led to Powder’s sending off seven minutes before halftime. The USMNT will surely miss McKennie’s midfield presence, but having him rest and recover now could do wonders for his long-term availability in 2024.
“All week, we discovered it,” Berhalter said. “There were some training sessions where he’s hobbling around and it really took a lot for him to even play in this match. I had to go to him and have a private conversation to see his availability and thankfully, he was able to play this match but sometimes you push it to the limit and something bad can happen.
“In this case, where he was getting treatment all week, we saw him hindered in training and after speaking to him, it was about recovery and getting this thing right and trying to nip it in the bud so it doesn’t linger for months and months,” Berhalter added.
The Americans recently extended their winning run to four matches against the Soca Warriors, outscoring them 22-0 over that span. Despite not playing its best overall match on Thursday in Austin, Texas, the USMNT grinded out a 3-0 result thanks to goals from Ricardo Pepi, Antonee Robinson, and Gio Reyna.
The USMNT lacked the cutting edge for 80 minutes on Thursday night at Q2 Stadium before Pepi’s clever flick-on finish opened the floodgates. Confidence will be on the USMNT’s side, especially holding a 3-0 lead, but an improved performance overall is also high on its overall agenda.
“We weren’t completely happy with the performance,” Ream said. “Obviously to come away with three goals and a win is nice but especially in the first half, we didn’t feel like we were doing enough in the final third. Obviously you have to give them credit for the way they defended and stayed behind the ball and made things compact and difficult for us, but it’s one of those where we made some adjustments at halftime.”