USMNT returns to Trinidad and Tobago with Copa America berth in sight

For the only man on the current United States national team roster who was also on the American squad when it last visited Trinidad and Tobago, the painful memories of Oct. 10, 2017 — when the U.S. was stunned by the Soca Warriors and failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup — have long since lost their sting.

“I’d say, 2019 Gold Cup,” defender Tim Ream said Sunday when asked when he finally got over a defeat that marked the lowest moment in USMNT history. “We played Trinidad, if I recall correctly. That was kind of the moment for me.”

Ream and the U.S. returned to the twin island Caribbean country for the first time Saturday ahead of Monday’s CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal second leg in Port of Spain. And once again, the Americans will have the chance to qualify for a major international tournament, in this case next summer’s Copa América. The circumstances going into this match are far different, though. After eventually finding the net three times in last Thursday’s first leg in Austin, Texas, even a two-goal loss would be enough for the USMNT to advance from the home-and home, aggregate-goals series.

Still, coach Gregg Berhalter and his players aren’t taking any chances. They’re approaching Monday’s match as if it’s a must-win.

“Now we have another half of this 180-minute game,” Berhalter said. “We want to see it out the right way.”

They also want to improve on Thursday’s performance. Despite having a man advantage for most of the game, the contest was still scoreless in the 80th minute. It won’t get easier for the Americans at Hasely Crawford Stadium. Temperatures will be in the high 80s when the match kicks off at 7 p.m. ET. The field won’t remotely resemble the pristine carpet of grass the teams played on at Q2 Stadium last week in the Texas capital.  And of course, another first half red card for T&T is unlikely. 

The difficult conditions absolutely came into play on that faithful night six years ago. Using the same lineup that routed Panama three days earlier, the Americans looked like they were playing in concrete cleats. The travel is notoriously grueling to get to Port of Spain, which sits farther south than Barranquilla, Colombia.

Berhlater will be forced to make at least one change from a lineup that was already missing injured starters Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah; Weston McKennie, another lock, returned to his Italian club Juventus over the weekend to recover from what U.S. Soccer called “aggravated left knee tendinopathy.”

Asked if he might rotate his XI to ensure his starters’ legs are fresh, Berhalter suggested he won’t make many other tweaks.

“It’s not time to experiment,” he said. “We’re focused on the best possible lineup we can play. It’s not about rotation at this point. It’s about who can fit the roles that we need to win this game.”

This game is where all the focus is, not on what happened in 2017. If the Americans are thinking about any of the program’s  previous trips to T&T this camp, it’s one that happened all the way back in 1989. Sunday marked the 34th anniversary of “The shot heard ‘round the world,” — Paul Caligiuri game-winning goal at Hasely Crawford that qualified the U.S. men for the World Cup after a 40-year absence from the global stage. Last week, Berhalter showed the team footage of the famous strike and invited Caligiuri to address the current team.

“Being able to connect the past with the present during this camp has been nice,” Ream said.  “It is something that we’ve discussed.”

Before heading home from Trinidad, Ream and the rest of the USMNT are looking forward to making more of the sort of history they’ll want to remember.

“There’s no point in taking your foot off and saying ‘OK, we’re there.'” Ream added. “As soon as you get complacent, you start to do things that you wouldn’t normally do. So now we’re going to approach this game the same way as if it was 0-0.”

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 Statesmen’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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