After getting such a difficult draw in the 2014 World Cup finals, you could excuse the United States if they are less than apologetic for the cupcake draw they received in the group stage of World Cup qualifying for 2018. The USA is in Group C along with Guatemala, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trindad and Tobago.
Compare that to Group A, where Mexico and Honduras both made the last World Cup in Brazil. Group B is arguably even more difficult, with three solid teams in Costa Rica, Jamaica and Panama battling it out for the top two spots in the group and a place in the last six. Costa Rica made the last World Cup, Panama is coming off a third place finish in the Gold Cup in July and Jamaica made the CONCACAF Hexagonal in 2012.
The USA began this easiest of group stages with their easiest game–at home to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Despite falling behind to a shock early goal, the Americans ended up cruising to a 6-1 win in St. Louis last Friday. It ended a three-game losing streak for Juergen Klinsmann’s men, who had won just once in their past six games coming into the match.
Traveling to Port-of-Spain to take on Trindad and Tobago will be their most difficult game in this stage of qualifying. Not only is it on the road but it is also against the only team in the group to have beaten the USA in the past 31 years. Guatemala has beaten the Americans three times in 23 meetings but not since 1984. St. Vincent had never met the USA until last Friday.
Trinidad, however, has proven to be a difficult place to play over the years for the Americans. The USA has won five, drawn two and lost three in ten trips to Trinidad. The teams have not met since they met four times during qualifying for the 2010 World Cup. The USA won three of those four matches, including a 1-0 away win in 2009. A year earlier, Trinidad secured a 2-1 home win over the USA. It’s a different matter when the two sides play in the United States, where the Soca Warriors have managed only one point in 13 games played. So the USA should have no issues for the return leg.
One big change for the USA from Friday’s game will be the return of Tim Howard as the goalkeeper. Since ending his self-imposed year-long break from international duty after the 2014 World Cup, Howard has played in only one game. Brad Guzan, who started against St. Vincent, will sit this one out.
Trinidad, which is 54th in the latest FIFA ranking, should be a good test for the 33rd-ranked Americans. As history has shown, nothing can be taken for granted in any away match when CONCACAF is involved. Should the USA play well and win, it will be viewed by many as a step forward for the team after what has been a disappointing year. A loss, while certainly not the death knell to their qualifying campaign, will mean more questions about whether Klinsmann is the man for the job.