Preview: Trinidad and Tobago v USMNT

Let’s have a show of hands: Who thought, when the US went behind to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, that the unthinkable might just happen? That the US would lose that game, and the next, Jurgen Klinsmann would be fired, and the whole thing would come tumbling down around us as the world imploded?

No? Nobody? Just me?

Well, suffice it to say, Friday’s game did not get off to a good start. Never mind that it was played against the backdrop of terror attacks in Paris (I know rescheduling games like this is difficult, but it felt a little gross that it went ahead as planned, in light of the violence in Europe and elsewhere.) — the US simply did not look ready to play. But, the opponent being what it was, the US was allowed to play themselves into the game and eventually dominated, scoring six unanswered goals. and holding close to 90 percent possession.

That’s good, because playing on Trinidad and Tobago’s home turf (Tuesday, 6:30 pm on beIN Sports and NBC Universo) is going to be a much, much sterner test of character for the US. There will be no luxuries of slow starts gone unpunished, or chances flubbed. While the US should feel confident about getting a win, it cannot afford to play at less than full concentration levels.

Questions of shape

Some analysts have pointed out that the reason the US looked poor to start the game was the shape gave no designated protection to the back line. With Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley playing together in the middle of a traditional 4-4-2, neither player stayed home, which allowed SV&G’s best player to punish DeAndre Yedlin’s defensive miscue. No midfield help arrived to support the defense, and a fine finish was made.

With the introduction of Darlington Nagbe late in the game, however, the US switched to a 4-3-3. Bradley played as a more traditional No. 6, the wingers pushed higher in support of a single striker, and the US looked like a different animal. 4-3-3, of course, is the shape Klinsmann came in saying he preferred, but the senior national team has only sporadically played it, often switching to diamond 4-4-2s and other shapes.

What makes the 4-3-3 so alluring is that it allows the team’s most dynamic player, Bradley, to play in the part of the field where he can be most effective. Sitting in front of the D, he can collect the ball early, turn and start play, then power into the box for scoring chances. The formations fluidity allows him to push up, and his prodigious industry means he rarely fails to track back and play defense, too.

So will we see 4-3-3 from the start? Doing so might give Fabian Johnson, who looked excellent versus SV&G, the chance to get a bit closer to goal, playing on the left of the attacking three. But it might also preclude a starting role for Bobby Wood, who looks increasingly dangerous for the US. While a much more mobile striker than Jozy Altidore, and more interested in linking up play, he nevertheless is a striker, not a wide forward or attacking midfielder, and 4-3-3s have only one striker slot.

Trinidad and Tobago

The US men have lost to T&T just three times since they began facing off in the 1980s, with the most recent loss coming in 2008. That said, they haven’t played at all since September of 2009, and the games, despite all the wins, were generally close affairs.

For their part, T&T also won their opening game of this round, defeating Guatemala 2–1, with goals from Khaleem Hyland and Kenwyne Jones, both playing their club soccer in Europe. MLS fans will also recognize some other players like Joevin Jones and Daneil Cyrus (Chicago Fire), Kevan George (Columbus Crew), and Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes).


The US hopefully has their concentration fixed and their game faces on, and won’t give up a goal in the first five minutes. If they do, it could be a long night. But if they score first, things should be okay. I think this game may look a lot like T&T’s but reversed for them, with the US scoring a couple before T&T gets one back. Or maybe T&T score first with the US forced to come back again. Regardless, the US wins, 2–1.


  1. Just finished watching Ireland vs. Bosnia. Ireland reminded me of the way USA used to play. Modest on the ball skills, slightly less than adequate posesion but what heart what determination , did not allow Bosnia any space at all.I guess Ireland is lucky that JK is not their coach. They sure would be playing different and probably losing as a result. Lets hope for the best on Tues.

  2. By far the most important game of the round for the US. They and T&T are the two almost certain to advance out of the group and it would be nice to lay the foundation to get a road win in the hex.

  3. I didn’t think they would lose after going behind though it was a laughable beginning …from my POV it would have been nice to see them score more than 3 goals from the run of play…. as I do not count set pieces as a measure of dominance.
    Nice to see Fabian Johnson in the midfield. Likely after such a strong showing in his most natural position he will be moved back to defense.
    I have an idea… how about Johnson in the midfield. How about M. Bradley in holding role or Dax McCartey who is playing stellar at least. How about finding your four best defenders and sticking with them: oN and oN I could go.
    — just don’t get JK.

    • I agree, though I did have a sinking feeling when they scored. I definitely wanted to see more goals from the run of play as well, felt like those weren’t as forthcoming and teams defense will get tougher in future opponents.

      It’s hard to draw conclusions from this game. Johnson looked good in midfield. Bradley wasn’t great and he really should have been able to get better balls into the box with the lack of pressure. Jones should just not be playing anymore at this point, and I’d like to see Nagbe in a role more like he has in Portland, which means we need a number 6 alongside him. Dax sounds like a good idea (on paper at least). I think the back four that started can work, but just let them play together and gel and stop mixing it up all the time, though I would like to see Miazga get playing time as well.

      But yeah, I don’t get JK either.

  4. “Brain Stew”: Something that has been brewing in my mind for a few months now.
    Bradley needs to play as the #6 if Klinsmann really wants to play a proactive, possession approach.
    I could not agree more with “What makes the 4-3-3 so alluring is that it allows the team’s most dynamic player, Bradley, to play in the part of the field where he can be most effective. Sitting in front of the D, he can collect the ball early, turn and start play, then power into the box for scoring chances.”
    As good as he is at times powering forward with the ball himself or making late runs into the box. As pretty as his final ball is from just outside the box, regardless where he lines up to start he commonly finds himself dropping back almost between the centerbacks to get the attack going. One of the biggest problems with the team is the lack of comfort in possession at the back, beginning the attack. Bradley at the #6 could fix that problem. I can’t think of another player in the US player pool who is more positionality sound, tactically astute, or comfortable in possession. Pushing him up the field has been a product of no one else stepping in to connect the midfield with the attack. Maybe Nagbe can be the answer? Maybe Mix can develop into the role? But Jones and Beckermann are both getting older. Jones does not have the positional discipline and Beckerman does not have the range. Trapp and the younger options have not gotten a chance at the international level to determine if they have the chops.
    All things considered, I’d like to see this at least at some point:
    Mostly because I do not think Ream is the answer at leftback and Bedoya is not on the roster (in place of Mix). Altidore was the point of a 4-3-3 in his most productive club year and even if he forgets his shooting boots, his physical presence and movement should occupy centerbacks to open lanes for the speed of Zardes and Woods between the center and outside backs.

  5. There is a part of me that would almost concede the 18 World Cup if a commitment was made to a more attacking brand of game stateside centered first in productive pressure in the other teams end.
    Force our select USNT young players over the next 3 years or so to become dependent on improving their technical quality and quickness of thought so a run can be made 2022.
    By then an entire new generation of very technical players will be part of the pool and the just slightly less young players will have begun to prove they can trust their technique which then may begin to open up our play… but an identity of defense (not bunkering defense) but organized systematic containment of the other team with proper positioning (i.e. Spain’s model)
    Balls to the wall breakneck attacking and counter attacking style when we have the ball. When the players come into camp teach team ORGANIZED defense in the other teams end (we already concede possession most of the time but its too deep in our end) … how to truly think a step or two ahead to shut down the other team in possession and force turnovers in the other teams end as your primary method of play..and force these young kids to sharpen their skills in friendlies and qualifying rounds. STOP backpedaling. STOP turning to run as though this was sound defense. STOP bunkering unless you are playing the likes of Argentina or Brazil or Spain…. when yeah… sometimes you just bunker down against a far superior side.
    We need a change in Philosophy brought about by a willingness to miss a large event so long as there is a clear, WHAT? Vision. and Plan. I guess this would be J. Klopp ‘gegenpressen’ type system.
    On and On and On I could go.

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