US coach relishes Soca Warriors test

US footballers train on Sunday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo ahead of their Concacaf Nations League quarterfinal second leg.  - US Soccer
US footballers train on Sunday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo ahead of their Concacaf Nations League quarterfinal second leg. - US Soccer

US MEN'S football coach Gregg Berhalter said he expects a "good test" from Trinidad and Tobago who need a miracle to turn around an 0-3 deficit in Monday's second leg of the 2023 Concacaf Nations League quarter-finals, at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo. The match kicks off at 8pm.

The US left it late against ten-man TT in the first leg in Austin, Texas, but still prevailed 3-0 to put one foot into the semis.

The winner over the two legs will not only qualify for the Nations League semi-finals, but will earn a spot at the 2024 Copa America.

US won the first leg on Thursday courtesy three goals in the final ten minutes. TT's Noah Powder was sent off after receiving a second yellow card in the 37th minute, but the Soca Warriors defence held firm until the deadlock was broken in the 82nd minute by Ricardo Pepi. Antonee Robinson added a second goal in the 86th minute, before Giovanni Reyna rounded off the scoring in the 89th minute.

Speaking to the media at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Sunday, Berhalter said, "We talked at the end of the (first) game, (saying) we are only halfway there so now we have another half of this 180-minute game...It is going to need intensity, it is going to need determination and teamwork and we will be ready then because it is an opportunity for us to go to the semi-finals of the Nations League, to go to Copa America."

Asked if fans could expect any experimentation in the second leg with a 3-0 cushion, Berhalter said, "It is not time to experiment. We are focusing on the result, we are focusing on the opportunities we have in this match and I think it will be getting ahead of ourselves (to experiment)."

US players warm-up during a training session on Sunday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, Mucurapo. - US Soccer

Berhalter said the Soca Warriors made them work in the first leg. "I also credited TT for their amazing effort and I stand by that. They did a great job. Their coach (Angus Eve) was animated on the sideline, getting them going and they really had a fighting spirit."

TT and the US have a long history of matches, but the rivalry really took off during the 1990 World Cup campaign. US silenced a capacity crowd at Hasely Crawford Stadium on November 19, 1989 with a 1-0 win to seal a spot at the 1990 Italy World Cup. The result prevented TT from qualifying.

Berhalter, who got over 40 caps in his international playing career, said matches between the two countries are always entertaining.

"They are always good matches. I remember the 1989 match, obviously 2017," Berhalter said. In 2017, a long-distance strike from TT defender Alvin Jones ended USA's chance of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Jones's goal helped TT win 2-1 at the Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.

Berhalter believes TT are starting to produce talented players again. "They had a really strong generation, they are replenishing that now. You could see some real quality young players...TT has been around for a while, has been competing at the highest level for a while, so we see this as a good test for our group."

Levi Garcia, who plays for Greek club AEK Athens, is one of TT's best players. Berhalter said limiting his threat will be pivotal. "He is a quality player, no question about it. We have enjoyed watching him play at AEK Athens. I spoke to him after the (first) game, saying how much I admire him as a player because of his quality...

"We know he is a dangerous player. We are going to have to be aware of him. (He is) very strong, good dribbler, good left foot...he is going to be a factor in this match for sure."

US will be without starting midfielder Weston McKennie because of a knee injury. Berhalter said in the days prior to the first leg, McKennie was battling to be fit for the match. "There were some training sessions where he was hobbling around and it really took a lot for him to play in this match (first leg)...sometimes you push it to the limit and something bad could happen.

"This was a case where he was getting treatment all week. We saw him hindered in training and after speaking to him, it is (now) about recovery, getting this thing right and trying to nip it in the bud, so it does not linger for months and months."


"US coach relishes Soca Warriors test"

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