A busy 2021 opens with a familiar friendly opponent to finish the annual January Camp. The United States Men’s National Team is set to take on Trinidad & Tobago Sunday night at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida. USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter and U-23 head coach Jason Kreis held a joint camp in Bradenton, Florida with a large young group and a smaller MNT roster. After U-23 camp broke last weekend, Berhalter brought a combined group to Orlando for this match. Concerns about cancellation due to the COVID pandemic were assuaged, with the TTFA thanking the USSF “for their vigilance” and “quite extensive protocol.”
The United States has a 19-3-4 all-time record against the Soca Warriors. This is the Caribbean nation’s first match since November 2019, where they lost 4-0 to Honduras in the final round of CONCACAF Nations League Group C. Trinidad is in search of its second World Cup qualification after reaching the group stage in 2006. The country has struggled since then, falling in the 2014 second round and finishing last in two Hexagonals (2010 and 2018).
Trinidad begins the first round of 2022 World Cup qualifying in March, needing to finish first in their group to advance. Their opponents – Saint Kitts and Nevis, Guyana, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas – should be easily dispatched, but there are no guarantees on the road to Qatar. Following a dismal third place finish in the last Nations League, the Soca Warriors must also defeat Montserrat and either Cuba or French Guiana to reach this summer’s Gold Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago is led by Terry Fenwick, who assumed the head coaching role in January 2020. His first official match will be this upcoming friendly. The former England international spent the majority of his career with Queens Park Rangers and Tottenham before moving into management. He is one of the most successful domestic club coaches, managing San Juan Jabloteh and Central FC, winning the TT Pro League four times.
Fenwick called in a tentative, ever-changing 24-player roster for the match against the United States, hopeful that additions would eventually be made from MLS. Six members are domestically based in the TT Pro League and eight compete with clubs in the United States. Several of the invitees have yet to make their senior international debut. The group is described as “the best possible players” that could be gathered due to COVID restrictions.
Goalkeepers (2): Marvin Phillip (Unattached), Adrian Foncette (Police FC)
Defenders (10): Alvin Jones (Unattached), Jesse Williams (Coleraine FC), Justin Garcia (Defence Force), Jamal Jack (Sacachispas), Leland Archer (Charleston Battery), Michael DeShields (DC United), Neveal Hackshaw (Indy Eleven), Josiah Trimmingham (Forward Madison), Noah Powder (Real Salt Lake), Federico Pena (Valour FC)
Midfielders (7): Michel Poon-Angeron (Club Banfield), Matthew Woo Ling (AC Port of Spain), Duane Muckette (Memphis 901 FC), Jabari Mitchell (Police FC), Ajani Fortune Jr (Atlanta United Academy), Jonathan Jimenez (Rio Grande Valley FC Toros), Andre Fortune (North Carolina FC)
Attackers (5): Hashim Arcia (Defence Force), Gary Griffith III (Coleraine FC), Sean Bonval (unattached), Brent Sam (Defence Force), Ryan Telfer (York United FC)
This is an inexperienced Trinidad squad, missing quite a few key players such as Khaleem Hyland, Daneil Cyrus, Kevin Molino, Joevin Jones, and Aubrey David. There currently is not a golden generation of youth, and the overall team is missing the firepower of past years. The new manager has had an entire year to work with his squad, preparing for the upcoming year and “going through 325 players.” According to Wired868, “with local leagues still dormant,” the national team has spent the past year “pummeling makeshift teams across the country… that are unable to train.” The coach received criticism for reportedly crushing opponents by a combined 33-0 margin in four matches, groups that were “asked to use players aged 16-21.”
Fenwick’s preferred lineup is difficult to predict as this is his first match in charge, although the Englishman is known to favor a 4-3-3. He’s described himself as “very flexible tactically“ and prone to “change formations during matches.” The manager will “tailor [his] plans to [the players’] strengths to bring quick success.” Going up against a regional power, Trinidad will likely play the best players to build chemistry in advance of qualifying.
Trinidad has two veteran goalkeepers competing for the number one role. Likely starter Marvin Phillip was with NEROCA F.C. in the I-League and has earned 80 caps with the national team. The 36-year-old played in Trinidad’s most recent match and started all four fixtures at the 2019 Nations League. His competition is Adrian Foncette, a 32-year-old currently with Police FC. American fans should remember the SUNY Albany graduate from his performance in the infamous 2018 World Cup qualifying match that saw the USMNT eliminated from contention.
Charleston Battery defender Leland Archer might make his debut at center back. The 25-year-old has been a regular for the USL Championship side. His partner could be Josiah Trimmingham, a 24-year-old ball-winning defender with Forward Madison FC that is dangerous on set pieces. Alternate options include Jamal Jack, Neveal Hackshaw, and Michael DeShields.
Confident in possession when accurately drilling long passes, Alvin Jones is an automatic selection at right-back. He was a key player in 2019 at the Nations League and Gold Cup. The left-back position appears open, but Noah Powder looks ready to stake his claim. The 22-year-old recently signed a deal with Real Salt Lake for the upcoming 2021 season.
Holding midfielder Andre Fortune has earned two caps with T&T, but he could be a key player during qualifying. He has already made 80 appearances at the club level with the Rochester Rhinos and North Carolina FC. His partner should be Jonathan Jiménez, a Florida native set to make his international debut. Michel Poon-Angeron, under contract with Club Banfield, could receive playing time. The 19-year-old turned heads at domestic camp and was retained for the friendly.
There are some interesting options available at attacking midfielder. Domestically based Hashim Arcia has 11 caps and performed well in recent friendlies. The 32-year-old pushes forward into the box, providing an additional scoring threat and finishing crosses. Both Matthew Woo Ling and Jabari Mitchell are inexperienced but pushing for a role in the program.
The winger position is perhaps the strongest part of this group. Ryan Telfer has earned six caps for Trinidad, scoring three goals. The York United attacker was a key player during the failed Nations League campaign. His wide partner could be Duane Muckette of Memphis 901, a sharp passer who is constantly working without the ball to find open space.
The striker position is a toss-up, but Brent Sam was prolific during Trinidad’s December camp. The Defence Force attacker scored six goals in four matches against the overmatched opponents. At 24, the trudging 6’3” attacker is capable of playing on the wing but at his best when receiving the ball deep in the final third.
The United States should run through this mismatched Trinidad side. The Soca Warriors have not played an official match in over a year due to the COVID pandemic and a seven-week FIFA suspension blocking out two international windows. Fenwick confessed he has yet to see his American-based call-ups on the training ground and noted his opponent’s “renowned, top, excellent players in their side,“ such as Jozy Altidore and Chris Mueller. The manager shared the federation is “taking a big gamble,” and the friendly is “a big step forward, maybe too early.” Once the dam bursts with a single goal, expect more to follow in rapid succession.
The match is scheduled for Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern, 4:00 p.m. Pacific. Viewing options include FOX Sports 1, TUDN, UniMás, and Fubo TV (free trial).