Gold Cup
For USMNT, Trinidad and Tobago matchups will never be taken for granted
Gold Cup

For USMNT, Trinidad and Tobago matchups will never be taken for granted

Published Jul. 2, 2023 4:22 p.m. ET

Facing Trinidad and Tobago with something on the line will never again be a formality for the U.S. men's national team — not after the Soca Warriors famously stunned the Americans in the final match of the 2018 World Cup qualifying cycle and snapped the USMNT's almost three-decade long streak of appearances at the biggest event in sports. 

More than five years later, an almost entirely new generation of U.S. men meets T&T on Sunday (7 p.m. ET, FOX) once again needing at least a point to advance, in this case to the quarterfinals of the 2023 CONCACAF Gold Cup. For longtime fans of the national team, the obvious parallel is difficult to ignore.  

Inside the USMNT locker room, though, the current squad is doing just that. The Americans' Gold Cup roster includes just one member, veteran fullback DeAndre Yedlin, who was involved in that failure in Couva, Trinidad. And the U.S. has more than gotten its revenge in two meetings with the Soca Warriors since, winning both matches — including one in the group stage of the 2019 Gold Cup — by a combined score of 13-0.  The ghosts of Couva were then finally exorcised last year when the U.S. returned to the World Cup and then reached the knockout stage of the competition in Qatar.  

"It's largely a different group that was a part of that game," said defender/midfielder James Sands, who was still more than three years away from making his international debut at the time of the fateful October 2017 contest. "I think we've done a pretty good job to be able to move past that." 


Still, T&T will never be just another opponent for the U.S. And with Jamaica tied on points with the Americans atop Group A and the Trinidadians just one point behind in third place, the stakes are once again significant. With the powerful Reggae Boyz up against already eliminated Saint Kitts and Nevis, U.S. needs a convincing win to finish first. Meanwhile, a loss to the Soca Warriors would knock the defending champion Americans out of the tournament in the group phase for the first time since 1989.  

Unlikely as that seems, this is effectively a U.S. B or even C team; just five members of the roster that won the Nations League with convincing victories over Mexico and Canada two weeks are on this one — one reason interim coach B.J. Callaghan so far has opted not to set the bar beyond advancing. 

"We want to be able to get out of the group and hopefully take first place," midfielder Cristian Roldan said. "For us that's the goal." 

To achieve it, respecting each foe is paramount.  

"We know that they're a well-coached team, a veteran, experienced team, guys that have tournament experience and Gold Cup experience," Callaghan said at Saturday's pre-match press conference.  

The conditions in Charlotte, North Carolina will present another challenge. Thunderstorms and a high temperature of 93 degrees are forecast for Saturday. Air quality in the region has been poor in recent days because of Canadian wildfires. And Bank of America Stadium has installed temporary grass over its usual artificial turf. That could make for some funny bounces, to the detriment of the more technical Americans.  

"It can be a little bit unpredictable," Roldan said of the surface, adding that he doesn't see it impacting the outcome.  "We're both going to have to deal with it — let's make sure we're cleaner on the ball than them." 

They should be. As much as victory is never guaranteed at the international level, the fact remains that the U.S. is the overwhelming favorite to win a match it only needs to tie. The Soca Warriors (+1100, per have been decidedly average at this Gold Cup; after breezing by Saint Kitts 3-0 in the opener, they were badly outclassed by Jamaica 4-1 in their most recent outing.  

Meantime, the Americans are hoping to continue to grow into the tournament and know their best performance yet will be needed. They're rested, as most of those who were in the lineup against the Reggae Boyz got the night off midweek to keep their legs fresh for Sunday's first-round finale. Callaghan confirmed that center back Miles Robinson has recovered from his calf/hamstring tightness and "is available for selection" on Sunday.  

Although they won't be dwelling on what happened to their predecessors, the new batch fully understands that they can't allow history to repeat itself. After all, they've got goals beyond just advancing.   

"It's obviously important for us to play well and feel like we're playing well going into the quarterfinals, because we can use that confidence and momentum," Roldan said.  

Not that the USMNT is looking past Trinidad and Tobago. Not this time. Not ever again.  

"Trinidad poses a lot of threats to us, especially with the speed in their attack," Callaghan said. "But if we play our style and we remain aggressive in pressing and dominating with the ball, we have confidence that we'll be able to score the goals and get the result that we need."

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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