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USA vs. Trinidad & Tobago, 2018 World Cup Qualifying: What to watch for

The “Don’t Massively Screw This Up” Edition

United States v Trinidad & Tobago - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Ashley Allen Getty Images

In the final round of games before the Hex, qualification still isn’t quite assured for the United States, but it would take a type of Biblical soccer cataclysm for the USMNT to miss out on the final round of CONCACAF qualifying. There’s only one possible result that would send Guatemala through ahead of the United States: if an already-qualified Trinidad and Tobago defeats the U.S. in Jacksonville, Guatemala beats St. Vincent and the Grenadines in Guatemala City, and Guatemala also overcomes a 12-goal deficit.

Remember when the U.S. needed to beat Egypt by three and have Italy lose by three to advance to the semifinals of the 2009 Confederations Cup, and it was a near-miracle that it happened? Guatemala needs that to happen, except with the results doubled. That’s certainly not impossible on their end against SV&G, but it would go down as possibly the most impressive failure in U.S. Soccer history if the U.S. were to lose by that amount at home to a team that hasn’t been to the World Cup since 2006. So, barring catastrophe, the U.S. are pretty much through to the Hex. Un-clench slightly.

That doesn’t mean that Klinsmann automatically gives the youngsters a run-out though. While he probably has plenty of wiggle-room here, I doubt it matters much when you still haven’t technically gotten the job done. So, apologies to the people who were really hoping to see a young, slightly experimental lineup on Tuesday. Also, apologies to absolutely everybody, because the chances that Michael Orozco plays in this game are very high.

Recent Form:

United States

W (0-6) - St. Vincent and the Grenadines - WCQ

L (0-1) - Colombia - Copa America

L (0-4) - Argentina - Copa America

W (2-1) - Ecuador - Copa America

W (1-0) - Paraguay - Copa America

Trinidad and Tobago

D (2-2) - Guatemala - WCQ

L (2-4) - China - Friendly

L (1-3) - Uruguay- Friendly

L (0-4) - Peru - Friendly

W (6-0) - St. Vincent and the Grenadines - WCQ

What to Watch for:

High Octane - T&T have a full-throttle offense: they do not stop attacking even when it would be very, very prudent for them to do so. In fact, it was their continual offensive pressing in their match against 10-man Guatemala, while up a goal, that allowed Guatemala the space and opportunities to get their equalizer and make this game mean anything at all. To put it simply: offense is what the Soca Warriors do best. Kenwyne Jones is a deadly finisher on his day, but their speed and skill on the flanks allow Jones plenty of opportunities as well. On the other hand, it also tends to leave them open to attacks. The last scoreless game they’ve played? Last year’s 0-0 draw against the U.S. Since then, they’ve scored 17 goals and conceded 17 goals. So, yeah. Don’t expect them to take a bath this game just because they’ve already advanced. They don’t know how.

Ch-Ch-Changes - Michael Bradley and Michael Orozco are in, Matt Besler and DeAndre Yedlin are out. So there will at the very least be 2 changes to the lineup that trounced SV&G, and probably even more. Given the performances on Friday and the new faces in camp, I wouldn’t be too surprised to see a change in formation to accommodate a couple people, as well.

Should Christian Pulisic Start? - Yes.

I know it was just St. Vincent and the Grenadines. You know who else scored two against them Friday? No one.

Playing him is not “blooding him” or “giving a youngster a shot” at this point. It’s playing your best players.

Lineup Prediction:

Riot in the comments!

Do I like that defense? No, I absolutely do not like that defense, but I don’t think Klinsmann trusts Omar Gonzalez and I’m absolutely certain he trusts Michael Orozco, and if you have to ask the odds on Orozco playing in this game on Tuesday, 3-1 would probably be a really, really good deal for a betting man. When U.S. backs were against the wall in the second Guatemala game, Klinsmann turned to the Birnbaum-Cameron partnership. I think he returns to it, valuing the set piece prowess of Birnbaum, Cameron, and Orozco (who knows how to get on the end of a cross, if nothing else). Johnson shifts back to left back both because Acosta probably is a risky proposition against T&T, and to make way for Pulisic.

I’m not sure Kljestan actually starts this game, and wiser heads might see Klinsmann starting a Bradley-Beckerman tandem more interested in protecting the defense than pushing the ball forward, but I also know the second Kljestan got on the ball against SV&G, he looked far more composed than any other midfielder had all game. Defense is a two-way street, and having someone who can connect passes in the final third and keep possession is just as important as someone who will make tackles for 90 minutes.