While all eyes are on a huge USMNT/Mexico matchup on Sunday, the United States can ill afford to look past a Trinidad and Tobago team they’ve handled for a number of years. In 24 matches, the U.S. have failed to register a result only thrice, winning 17 and drawing four. Their last defeat to the Soca Warriors came on October 15, 2008 in Port of Spain in what admittedly was a meaningless match for the Americans with their place in the final round of 2010 World Cup qualifying already settled. Since then, they have gone 3-1-0 in their last four matches and look to make it five in a row in which they have not conceded to their foes from the Caribbean.
A few quotes from the mixed zone as the U.S. began its final training session before tomorrow’s match:
You can’t blame Christian Pulisic for being a little tired of being asked about how a player of his age - 18 - is able to make the same adjustments on the soccer field that men 10 or 15 years older than him are making. So it makes sense when he bristled a little after a question came his way regarding how other players his age aren’t comfortable in the environment he’s succeeded in thus far.
“Everyone asks me questions about my age, but it doesn’t matter anymore,” Pulisic responded. “(My teammates and I) are all on the same level, so...it doesn’t matter.”
Pulisic, even at his young age, is already being regarded as one of the faces of the program. In just fourteen appearances, he already has five goals, including the Americans’ lone tally in a friendly against Venezuela on June 3. He’ll certainly have another chance to add to his account against the Soca Warriors tomorrow night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
Pulisic did admit that it was a little of an adjustment getting used to the higher elevations here in this part of the country as opposed to Germany - especially Dortmund, where he doesn’t have to deal with it at all.
“I guess I felt it a little bit, but we’ve been training here (in Colorado),” he said. “Everyone has to play in it, so there’s no advantage or disadvantage. I feel pretty good with it.”
Michael Bradley isn’t all that concerned with the altitude and the challenges it may present. In fact, he feels that he’s more than used to the conditions.
“We’ve played here before,” Bradley said. “We’ve followed a game here with a game at Azteca. I feel good about the week and the ten days of preparation. Now it’s about enjoying the next few days. Big games, a lot of the line, and we’re excited.”
Fans will remember the last time a qualifier at Commerce City was followed immediately by one at Azteca. The U.S. played to a goalless draw against Mexico on March 26, 2013, but four days prior was the infamous Snow Classico, a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica.
As for this year, Bradley noted the team’s showing in March - four out of a possible six points to move up to fourth in the standings - after a slow opening to the fifth round of qualifying was important. But he did mention that the team couldn’t look past Trinidad and on to an intense rivalry match against El Tri in Mexico City.
“We didn’t get off to the start we wanted in the Hex. March was a really good response. Now, we have two more big games, including tomorrow night at home. The atmosphere around home qualifiers is always special and unique, and all our focus is on that game right now.
“As soon as the whistle blows after 90 minutes, we’ll shift our focus to the game on Sunday night, but at the moment, the only thing we’re worried about is taking care of business tomorrow night.”
Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is obviously familiar to U.S. and Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard. After 13 years in the Premier League with Manchester United and then Everton, he returned to MLS to don the Rapids kit last year.
“It’s not just any other match - it’s big and important,” Howard said. “Obviously the comforts of home is nice (but) the preparation of the game takes care of itself. (On the field) I go to another place and I’m focused.”
Howard recognized a few of the challenges that Trinidad presents, especially when it comes to their physical play.
“I think any team in CONCACAF who can physically match us has an advantage over other teams,” he said. “You’ve seen that with Panama where they tried to bully us a bit. Normally it doesn’t work, and they get the benefit of the doubt, but I think Trinidad has an edge over a lot of teams there because they are physically gifted.
“With the altitude and the way we’ve been playing when we get on the ball, it’s been really good. Obviously we need to be resilient defensively, and we have no doubt we can do that.”