Yanks hope to regain footing vs. Trinidad

Posted on 31 March 2009 by Nathaniel E. Baker

Four days after its epic rally against El Salvador, the U.S. Men’s National Team is back at it Wednesday night, hosting Trinidad & Tobago at Nashville, Tenn., in the third matchday of the “hex” stage of World Cup qualifying. Bob Bradley’s team will be seeking to reestablish itself as the preeminent CONCACAF power after looking surprisingly vulnerable at San Salvador Saturday night. Trailing 2-0 in the 72nd minute, the U.S. was nevertheless able to rally for a 2-2 draw. Thanks to the point, the U.S. claims first place ahead of Mexico and Costa Rica, who are tied for second on three points apiece.

The game against Trinidad should be easier than the one against El Salvador seeing as it is a) a home game and b) one where U.S. fans might even represent a majority of the crowd (not always the case when the U.S. hosts teams from Latin America). Expect the U.S. to play better at home than it did in a hostile atmosphere on the road. Everybody does. But on paper, Trinidad appears to be the better team. The Soca Warriors qualified for the 2006 World Cup and have several players in top divisions in England and Scotland (and in one case Hungary), while El Salvador’s all play for local clubs. The Cuscatlecos have not qualified for a World Cup since 1982.

All of which makes the U.S. performance on Saturday that much more unsettling. But it shouldn’t, really. The fact is that defensively, this team has issues. These became painfully apparent not only in El Salvador but also against Mexico on Feb. 11, where defensive errors nearly (and for all intents and purposes should have) cost the U.S. a goal in the opening minutes. Bob Bradley’s lineup lacks a left back after Heath Pearce proved almost completely ineffectual those two games. Carlos Bocanegra is proving to be a liability in central defense and Danny Califf does not exactly bring to mind Paulo Maldini either. If Oguchi Onyewu is healthy (as is expected) it will be one major upgrade over the lineup from El Salvador.

Another will be Tim Howard, who returns after a yellow card suspension. Either Jonathan Bornstein or Jonathan Spector will get the start at left back. It may be time for Spector, who has been plying his trade in the Premiership since 2006, to get his chance.

And Boca? The U.S. captain isn’t going anywhere, even though at 29 his best days may already be behind him. If the U.S. is going to progress past the first round of next year’s World Cup, it will likely need major upgrades at two defensive positions. Of course that is another issue for another day. It needs to win a few more games in the Hex first.

Just how problematic should that be? Not very. Other than its defense, the U.S. does not really have any glaring weaknesses. It has several budding stars at key positions, all of whom should hit their stride in the months ahead: Michael Bradley is becoming a creative force in central midfield (something the U.S. has long lacked), Landon Donovan remains a dangerous attacking threat and Damarcus Beasley can cause all kinds of problems on the left wing (unfortunately, in El Salvador most of those were for his own team). Let’s not forget Tim Howard, a veritable world class goalkeeper.

After dodging the proverbial bullet at El Salvador, expect a tighter performance from the USMNT Wednesday night. With the crowd behind it, the U.S. should play inspired attacking football, something Trinidad will not have any answers for.

ASN Prediction: U.S. 3, Trinidad 0

1 Comments For This Post

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