Jurgen Klinsmann enjoyed the relief of an emphatic victory to begin World Cup qualifying, but he will know that the challenge awaiting his United States team promises to be a whole lot tougher on Tuesday. Against the lowest-ranked of the remaining Concacaf participants, the U.S. recovered from the shock concession of an early goal to pummel St. Vincent and the Grenadines 6-1 in St. Louis. Up next, though, is a trip to take on a Trinidad and Tobago side currently ranked fourth among Concacaf nations.
Having overseen the U.S. men’s national team’s worst performance at a Gold Cup in 15 years as well as a defeat to Mexico in last month’s Confederations Cup playoff, Klinsmann came into the start of qualifying at his lowest point since taking charge over four years ago. Before Friday’s encounter U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati, who had previously been steadfastly behind the man he pursued so doggedly for the coaching role, gave the first signs that perhaps his confidence in the German was wavering just a bit.
Klinsmann had every reason, then, to wear the look of a man on the verge of crisis when a team ranked 129th in the world took a fifth minute lead at Busch Stadium. A double from Jozy Altidore and goals from Bobby Wood, Fabian Johnson and Geoff Cameron meant the U.S. eventually cruised to a convincing victory. However, it will take more than a win over such limited opponents to ease the criticism of recent performances produced not only by the senior team but the youth teams he bears responsibility for in his role as technical director.
One of the major critiques aimed at Klinsmann has been his unwillingness to absorb responsibility for the team’s failures. But on that front, he gave no indication of changing tact ahead of the trip to Port of Spain.
“When you hear a lot of people talking some things are going wrong because you lost maybe two or three games recently, then that’s a bit immature,” Klinsmann said. “That’s simply wrong. I think there is a lot of work ahead of us in all of our areas, but there’s also a lot of excitement.
“This is what a lot of people forget quickly, because suddenly we came out of the Group of Death in Brazil, I don't know, people now expect maybe miracles, expect you to get easily into the final four of a World Cup or final eight, or have our Under-20s win the World Cup in New Zealand or our Under-17s win the World Cup in Chile. And that's not going to happen. Because this is only a process that over many, many years will hopefully one day end in big, big successes.”
With a five month break until the U.S. next takes the field in World Cup qualifying action after Tuesday’s encounter, the pressure on Klinsmann will have plenty of time to fester should the result not go his team’s way. And Trinidad and Tobago are likely to be confident of inflicting such pain, having started qualifying with a 2-1 win in Guatemala.
The result continued the Soca Warriors’ positive momentum following an encouraging showing at this summer’s Gold Cup, where Stephen Hart’s team was only knocked out in the quarterfinals on penalties by Panama, having played Mexico to a thrilling 4-4 draw in the group stage. A particular threat to the U.S. promises to be captain Kenwyne Jones, who currently plays for English Championship side Cardiff City but has spent much of his career in the Premier League. The striker grabbed Trinidad’s second goal in Guatemala to extend his fine international form to four goals in his last five appearances.
With Trinidad and Tobago’s form and the stifling temperatures in Port of Spain, this will be a stern test for the United States. Some of the defensive fragility on display against St. Vincent and the Grenadines will likely be punished far more by a much higher class of opponent on Tuesday. Guessing Klinsmann’s team selection is never an easy task, but it would make sense to choose a more solid midfield, possibly with Gyasi Zardes dropping out or Fabian Johnson dropping back to full-back. Do that and the U.S. may just be able to secure what would be a creditable point on the road.
Predicted score: Trinidad and Tobago 1-1 USA
Kickoff time: 6:25 p.m. EST