ST. PAUL, Minn. – Before the US men’s national team could depart Allianz Field following following their 4-0 victory over Guyana to open Group D play Tuesday, questions shifted to their next Concacaf Gold Cup opponent.
Yes, that one. The Trinidad and Tobago national team that sent the US crashing out of 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying with their stunning upset on Oct. 10, 2017.
But any sort of revenge prospects may be more important to supporters than the players, only a few of whom were at Ato Boldon Stadium that night in Couva.
“Totally different team,” said US midfielder Michael Bradley following Tuesday’s win. “There’s like two or three guys here who were in Trinidad. So I’m not sure other than it being a nice narrative for you guys, I’m not sure inside of the group if it carries a whole lot of weight.”
And those who were on the field for T&T’s 2-1 qualifying victory aren’t quite sure what they’ll feel when they look across at the Soca Warriors come Saturday (8 pm ET | FS1, Univision, UDN TSN).
“I think it’s just the opinion of each person,” said winger Paul Arriola. “For me, you know, it will be a little different than other players, I’m sure. But it’s the second game of the group stage that we have to win and really solidify our spot in the group.
“I can probably tell you more after the game how it was, but leading into the game right now, it’s just focus, recover, and get onto the field.”
What Arriola is sure of is T&T will be totally focused from the outset, in part because of their opening 2-0 loss to Panama. With the Gold Cup field expanded to 16 teams, only the top two finishers in each group advance to the quarterfinals, meaning T&T needs at least a draw and maybe a victory to remain in contention.
In that respect, Tuesday’s game against a Guyana side amped to play their nation’s first ever game in a major tournament may have provided a good test.
“I thought tonight we did a pretty good job of the initial intensity and we were really able to come into our own afterward,” Arriola said. “But it will be extremely important to get off with our right foot forward against [T&T]. They’re a physical team, they’re a fast team. They need the three points just as much or maybe even more than we do.”
A larger portion of the Soca Warriors’ squad from the teams’ previous meeting remains. Six of those who started against the US in Couva were also in coach Dennis Lawrence’s XI on Tuesday.
Does that mean the Americans will face a T&T side carrying more confidence into the meeting than in previous encounters? Bradley isn’t so sure.
“That’s not a question for me,” he said. “Given the result tonight, I expect them to come out and play like they need to get three points. I have no idea if the game from those two years ago means anything to them."
Molino expects US to "come with extra drive" in Trinidad & Tobago rematch
As if there weren’t already enough potential emotion surrounding the US men’s national team’s first chance to play Trinidad and Tobago since T&T knocked them out of 2018 World Cup qualifying, there’s also the reality that the Soca Warriors will be in do-or-die mode.
With 16 teams in the Concacaf Gold Cup for the first time, only the top two group finishers advance. And after a disappointing 2-0 opening loss to Panama on Tuesday, that means Trinidad must perform in Saturday’s Group D encounter against the US in Cleveland (8 pm ET | FS1, Univision, UDN in US, TSN5 in Canada).
“We just need to get a good result, just make sure we don’t lose the game against the US,” said Minnesota United midfielder Kevin Molino after going all 90 minutes for T&T in his home ground. “But I think we have what it takes in the locker room to win the game.”
The teams’ last meeting sent shockwaves around the soccer world in October of 2017, when Alvin Jones’ stunning strike ultimately gave T&T a 2-1 victory and kept the US out of the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986.
That history should give the Soca Warriors confidence another upset is possible, but Molino also believes his team needs to leave it in the past.
He doesn’t expect the USMNT to do the same.
“They will come motivated, and come with extra drive to want to win the game because of what happened in the World Cup qualification,” Molino said. “We want to repeat that. We want to win again and qualify for the next round. Most important is that it’s not about the last result [in qualifying]. It’s about us trying to move forward in the tournament.”
Trinidad missed their own chance at revenge at Allianz Field Tuesday, falling to the same Panamanian side that eliminated them on penalties in their last Gold Cup match, the 2015 quarterfinals.
That meant a bittersweet homecoming for Molino, who got a noticeable ovation during player introductions from those who arrived in time for the opener of the twin bill. He must’ve also noticed the roar from the crowd when it reacted to Mason Toye’s winner in MNUFC’s 3-2, come-from-behind U.S. Open Cup triumph at the Houston Dynamo, a match screened during T&T-Panama.
His side couldn’t engineer a similar comeback against a Canaleros squad whose continuous pressure was eventually rewarded with costly T&T mistakes.
“All of us were sloppy, and we have to rebound and go back to the drawing board, and work hard and keep fighting,” Molino said. “I was happy to be here playing, the fan support was great. But overall, collectively, the most important thing is ... we didn’t get the three points.”
Pulisic - I want to beat T&T.
"It's not going to change anything. Obviously, I want some revenge, I want to beat them," said Pulisic. "The team is going to go out and give it everything. We want to win that game." - By Jeff Carlisle.