The United States Men’s National Team’s reign as CONCACAF Nations League champions requires immediate defense, with a quick turnover from one edition to the next, to say nothing of the spot in the 2024 Copa América on the line. Unlike previous competitions, a less exigent pathway lies ahead due to this year’s format allowing four teams to skip past the group stage. Entering into the two-leg quarterfinal round, the first challenge is Trinidad and Tobago, a familiar foe that has struggled to gain traction in recent years. The initial match will be at Austin’s Q2 Stadium, a 20,738-seat arena with Platinum TE Seashore Paspalum grass that has hosted seven international meetings; the away fixture is set for Hasely Crawford Stadium – a 22,575-seat venue with a grass surface – in the capital city of Port of Spain.
These are the 29th and 30th all-time meetings between the two nations, with the USMNT holding a 21-3-4 advantage. Ranked 99th internationally by FIFA, Trinidad and Tobago exited last summer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup in the group stage with a 1-2-0 record. In the current Nations League, The Soca Warriors were drawn into Group A and finished in second place behind Panama following wins over Curaçao (1-0), El Salvador (3-2), and Guatemala (3-2); the only blemish was a 3-2 loss to Curaçao in the final round, which would have been disastrous had Martinique produced a result against El Salvador.
After a stint as an interim, Angus Eve was appointed to the manager role in September of 2021. His contract ended last July, but the FIFA-appointed normalization committee extended his contract through March of 2024, citing that the 51-year-old retired midfielder brought “stability, quality, and belief” to the team. Additionally, the program “commissioned a technical advisory panel” to assist his efforts.
Eve named a 23-player roster for the “opening leg” of the quarterfinal round. The domestic TT Premier Football League is home to ten of the talents, while a further six compete at various levels of the United States pyramid. Malcolm Shaw and Levi García return to the fold after an extended absence. The manager notes that “the majority of [call-ups] are not in season right now,” which “makes the task a little harder.”
GOALKEEPERS (3): Denzil Smith (Club Sando), Christopher Biggette (Defence Force), Rushon Sandy (Yavapai College)
DEFENDERS (7): Justin Garcia (Defence Force), Aubrey David (CS Cartaginés), Shannon Gomez (San Antonio FC), Alvin Jones (Club Sando), André Raymond (Vilar Perdizes), Jesse Williams (Central Valley Fuego FC), Ross Russell Jr. (La Horquetta Rangers)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Noah Powder (Northern Colorado Hailstorm), Kaïlé Auvray (Mount Pleasant FA), Neveal Hackshaw (Oakland Roots), Daniel Phillips (St. Johnstone), Michel Poon-Angeron (AC Port of Spain), Andre Rampersad (HFX Wanderers), Kristian Lee-Him (IFK Eskilstuna)
FORWARDS (6): Real Gill (Club Sando), Nathaniel James (Mount Pleasant), Reon Moore (Defence Force), Ryan Telfer (Miami FC), Levi García (AEK Athens), Malcolm Shaw (Atlético Ottawa)
Eve typically deploys a 4-2-3-1 formation but will also on occasion utilize a 5-2-3 set-up. The manager is an avowed pragmatist, noting that “possession doesn’t win matches,” willingly ceding the ball to opponents. He intends to “soak up pressure” with a strong back line before breaking into a counter-attack led by “good wingers and fast forwards.” The defense has struggled to contend with field switches, crosses, and set pieces, although experience and growing chemistry should reduce the prevalence of those issues.
Trinidad appears to have a new number-one goalkeeper, with Denzil Smith playing in all four Nations League fixtures. Over the summer, the 24-year-old moved from W Connection to Club Sando and is looking to make the jump abroad. He notes personal areas for improvement as “being more vocal” and “distribution via kicks and throws.” Standing 5’10”, his well above-average athleticism and early read on the ball allow for him to hold his own in the box.
As one of the squad’s veterans and frequent captain, former Guyana senior international Aubrey David is known for his “non-nonsense approach” and “fearless defending.” The 6’3” converted Cartaginés fullback covers a lot of ground to claim his share of headers and clattering slide tackles. Justin Garcia, with his “elegant” left foot, received an extended runout with the squad over the past few months, starting all four matches in the Nations League. He is “a menace to opposing defenders on set pieces” and constantly wins the ball. Lining up in the third centre-back position is the versatile Neveal Hackshaw of the USL’s Oakland Roots. The 28-year-old is strong in the air, plays vertical passes, and possesses the pace to win foot races against wingers on the outside.
At left fullback is Ross Russell Jr. of domestic side La Horquetta Rangers, who picked up four starts during the group stage. Tall for the position at 6’3”, the converted winger is “known for his endless energy and bombarding runs down the wing,” while personally noting “shortcomings” on the defensive end. Alvin Jones is the main option on the right side, with significant international experience and a goal in a recent Nations League fixture against Guatemala. The “all-action” Club Sando defender acquits himself in one-on-one situations in both phases of the game. There could also be a role for San Antonio FC’s Shannon Gomez, an overlapping attacking presence with an intelligent understanding of spacing.
After making his senior international debut earlier this year, Andre Rampersad became a mainstay in the starting lineup with his delicate touch and reading of movement. The 28-year-old from the borough of Arima keeps the ball on a string while maintaining possession in order to methodically advance up the field. AC Port of Spain’s Michel Poon-Angeron has been his regular partner in the center of the midfield. He is an aggressive physical presence when throwing himself into tackles and looks to distribute with passes that split between multiple lines.
Canada-born Ryan Telfer has enjoyed a productive run since joining the national team program in 2019 with nine goals in 26 caps. The 29-year-old winger covers the width of the field, has the agility to evade opponents, and can finish in a variety of ways, from long-range shots to headers. Defence Force’s Reon Moore emerged as a key player during the group stage with two goals and an assist in his three starts. The pacey attacker is praised for his “direct approach, clinical finishing, and tremendous work rate off the ball.” There is also an opportunity for former U.S. youth international Kaïlé Auvray to play a role. The French-born teenager who has also competed for Saint Martin uses his “low center of gravity and slippery style” to thrive in one-on-one situations.
As prolific attacker Levi García struggles with injury issues, Malcolm Shaw has taken a more involved role at the top of the formation, earning five caps since making his debut in June at the Gold Cup. The 28-year-old from Ontario, Canada scored a crucial goal in a 3-2 victory over El Salvador, a bright spot amidst slumping form with Atlético Ottawa. On his best days, he is a pacy counter-attacker, creative dribbler, grinding physical presence, intelligent distributor, and advantageous finisher with both his head and feet. Typically drifting to the right side of the field, his pressing work on the defensive side of the ball is also useful to regain possession, delivering crunching tackles to those who are more accustomed to being on the other side of the equation.
Trinidad is almost two decades removed from the program’s high-water mark of qualifying for the World Cup, but there appears some hope on the horizon with intriguing young players beginning to take on important roles. However, a significant talent disparity still exists between the two sides. Over a 180-minute timeline, the United States should be able to overcome any potential hiccups or false starts and secure advancement to the next round.
The first match is scheduled for Thursday, November 16th at 9:00 p.m. Eastern, 6:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include TNT, Telemundo, Universo, Max, Peacock, and FUBO TV (free trial).
The second match is scheduled for Monday, November 20th at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include TNT, Universo, Max, Peacock, and FUBO TV (free trial).