Since Gregg Berhalter’s return to the helm, the USA has played four friendlies — wins over Uzebekistan (3-0) and Oman (4-0) in September, and a loss to Germany (1-3) and win over Ghana (4-0) in October .
The next pair of games against Trinidad & Tobago — Thursday in Austin and Monday in Port of Spain — matter more. They're the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Nations League, of which the USA is two-time defending champion – and the winner qualifies for next summer’s Copa America.
"November turns the page and now it's about competing," coach Berhalter said during a press conference on the eve of the first leg. “We’re looking forward to competing against a much-improved Trinidad team.”
A U.S. ‘B’ team trounced Trinidad & Tobago, 6-0, at last summer’s Gold Cup, in which the Soca Warriors also fell, 4-1, to Jamaica.
“It was an interesting transition that they had,” Berhalter said. “After the Gold Cup, they shed half their roster basically. And said, OK, we’re starting over. And you can see the hunger in this new group. There are very few carry-over players from that tournament.
"They have energy, they’re good on set pieces, they're good at attacking and they have quality. … So we have to be wary of them. I think the inexperience they have in this case helps them.”
Since the Gold Cup, T&T earned a spot in the Nations League quarterfinals with wins over Curacao (1-0), El Salvador (3-2) and Guatemala (3-2), before a 5-3 loss at Curacao after having assured its passage.
When asked whether he had in mind the number of goals he expected his team to score in Austin to put the USA in a comfortable spot going into the road game, Berhalter said:
“I don't think that type of mentality is taking opponents seriously enough. We want to be focused on our performance, focus on teamwork, and be determined to win the game. We're not taking the opponent for granted. We're not taking them lightly, and we're going to need a big effort in this game, and that's our focus.”
Berhalter has good reason to make sure his players don't approach the two-game series with a complacent attitude.
In their two previous meetings before the 6-0 win in Gold Cup last July, the USA beat T&T, 7-0, in a January 2021 friendly, and 6-0 at the 2019 Gold Cup.
But the last meeting between the nations before the Berhalter era was the infamous 2-1 loss to Soca Warriors in Couva that kept the USA out of the 2018 World Cup — ending a streak of reaching every World Cup since Paul Caligiuri's "shot heard around the world" against T&T qualified the USA for the 1990 World Cup.
Ahead of debacle in Couva in October of 2017, T&T was already eliminated from 2018 World Cup contention, having won only one of its nine Hexagonal games.
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U.S. men's national team roster
Name (club) caps/goals (age)
Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest/ENG) 9/0 (28)
Gaga Slonina (KAS Eupen/BEL) 1/0 (19)
Matt Turner (Nottingham Forest/ENG) 35/0 (29)
Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic/SCO) 14/0 (25)
Sergiño Dest (PSV Eindhoven/NED) 30/2 (23)
Kristoffer Lund (Palermo/ITA) 3/0 (21)
Tim Ream (Fulham/ENG) 53/1 (36)
Chris Richards (Crystal Palace/ENG) 14/1 (23)
Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG) 37/2 (26)
Miles Robinson (Atlanta United) 27/3 (26)
Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER) 7/0 (20)
Paxten Aaronson (Eintracht Frankfurt/GER) 1/0 (20)
Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP) 19/0 (25)
Lennard Maloney (Heidenheim/GER) 1/0 (24)
Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA) 48/11 (25)
Yunus Musah (AC Milan/ITA) 31/0 (20)
Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER) 22/6 (21)
Malik Tillman (PSV Eindhoven/NED) 6/0 (21)
Brenden Aaronson (Union Berlin/GER) 36/8 (22)
Folarin Balogun (Monaco/FRA) 6/3 (22)
Kevin Paredes (Wolfsburg/GER) 2/0 (20)
Ricardo Pepi (PSV Eindhoven/NED) 20/9 (20)
Alex Zendejas (Club América/MEX) 7/1 (25)
Note: Midfielder Johnny Cardoso (Internacional/BRA) was called up but injured afterward and not replaced.
Trinidad & Tobago roster
Name (Club: caps/goals)
Denzil Smith (Club Sando; 5/0)
Christopher Biggette (Defence Force; 0/0)
Rushon Sandy (Yavapai College; 0/0)
Alvin Jones (Club Sando; 48/4)
Aubrey David CS Cartagines/CRC; 77/1)
Justin Garcia (Defence Force; 15/1)
Ross Russell (La Horquetta Rangers; 14/0)
Jesse Williams (Central Valley Fuego; 9/0)
Andre Raymond (Vilar de Perdizes/POR; 4/0)
Shannon Gomez (San Antonio FC; 12/0).
Neveal Hackshaw (Oakland Roots; 39/2)
Noah Powder (Northern Colorado Hailstorm; 17/2)
Michel Poon-Angeron (AC Port of Spain; 11/0)
Kristian Lee-Him (IFK Eskilstuna/SWE; 4/1)
Kaile Auvray (Mount Pleasant/JAM; 9/0)
Andre Rampersad (Halifax Wanderers/CAN; 9/1)
Daniel Phillips (St. Johnstone FC/SCO; 8/0)
Ryan Telfer (Miami FC; 26/9)
Real Gill (Club Sando; 4/1)
Reon Moore (Defence Force; 24/7)
Nathaniel James (Mount Pleasant/JAM; 4/2)
Levi Garcia (AEK Athens/GRE; 41/8)
Malcolm Shaw (Atletico Ottawa/CAN; 5/1).