Lineup changes expected for Trinidad & Tobago
The good news for Bob Bradley after the U.S. national team's win over Guatemala was clear -- his first tournament win was behind him now, and having accomplished that, he could focus on progressing through the competition.
That the Americans squeaked by with a one-goal victory over their Central American rivals is a quibble that even critics will forget if the U.S. performs well versus Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday.
Bradley likely had the contest versus the island nation in mind when he pulled Clint Dempsey, one of the squad's most effective players, after only 15 minutes had expired in the second half of the Guatemala game. If possible, Bradley would like to keep his ace, who has scored in the past two games for the U.S., fresh enough to contribute again.
"Confidence is everything," said Dempsey of his recent success. "I'm feeling confident right now."
Historically, the U.S. has only lost once to Trinidad and Tobago, but the islanders have usually played well enough to keep the score within striking distance. In 16 meeting between the two sides, the Americans have scored more than two goals on only one occasion. With veterans such as Dwight Yorke having moved on, the Soca Warriors are working on developing the next generation of players.
Silvio Spann, whose excellent free kick from far out gave his squad the early lead versus El Salvador, offers a solid threat on set pieces, and Darryl Roberts, the only European-based player on the current roster, is dangerous from the run of play.
Yet the U.S. doesn't focus too much attention on the details of opponents, focusing instead on the execution of its own performance.
"We try to focus more on us," said midfielder Benny Feilhaber.
"The day before the game we'll watch a little game tape. We've got to feel that we're the strongest team in our group and we've got to play our game. We're always aware tactically of what the other team is going to do, but we play our own game."
Although Guatemala was probably a more technical and organized opponent than Trinidad and Tobago is, the Caribbean players are likely to be far more athletic and faster. A key change for the U.S. to counteract the oppositions speed would be placing Ricardo Clark in the midfield. Bradley's confidence in the combination of Clark with any other midfielder was high.
"In practices, we've run the combinations together, and they all work well -- Michael [Bradley] with Benny [Feilhaber] or Benny with Rico [Clark] or Michael and Rico. It gives us options when they're all able to partner well together."
Bradley also made it clear that striker Eddie Johnson, who only played sub minutes in the opening game, will be given the chance to use his speed up top versus Trinidad and Tobago's backline.
"We'll have him ready to go to challenge Trinidad and Tobago on Saturday," Bradley said of Johnson.
One change that is obviously mandatory for Bradley is replacing his suspended central defender, Oguchi Onyewu, who was red-carded from the match versus Guatemala.
Jay DeMerit, who finished off that game for the U.S. in central defense, is likely to continue as the first choice fill-in. Though not as physically imposing as Onyewu, DeMerit is also a legitimate scoring threat on set pieces, and athletic enough even to corral even speedy strikers.
Yet if DeMerit can play a more controlled game than Onyewu managed, he could impress his coach considerably.
"I felt we had given away too many fouls in the first half," Bradley said after the Guatemala game. "You're always trying find a balance where we have defenders who have some strong physical qualities -- and they need to be able to use those qualities. At the same time, we don't want to be giving away fouls all the time."
It could also be an ideal match for Michael Parkhurst to finally earn a cap, as the central defender is especially skilled in positioning himself well to stifle attackers without fouling. However, it is more likely that Parkhurst would debut next to a more experienced international defender than DeMerit, who has only a few caps to his credit.
With only two days rest between group matches, Bradley may swap out a number of other players in his lineup to keep the team's legs fresh, especially on defense (perhaps giving Frankie Simek and Jonathan Spector a chance to contribute).
Although the basic plan of Trinidad and Tobago is likely to be similar to that of Guatemala in terms of defending well and looking to counter, the execution varies considerably. The Soca Warriors will look to beat their defenders one-on-one and get behind the defense, while Guatemala tried more to gather numbers moving forward on runs to receive balls laid off from Carlos Ruiz.
The U.S. is still likely to depend on Landon Donovan to orchestrate much of its attack, though his skills seem to be wasted on the right side when the ball does not find him there for stretches.
However, that might end up giving other players a chance to step forward. Many of the U.S. players who have seen little Gold Cup action thus far are eager to show their capabilities, without falling into the trap of believing a team from a small nation poses little threat.
"Trinidad, of course, is no pushover," DeMerit said. "Hopefully, it will be a good match and we'll come out winners in the end as well."
Andrea Canales covers MLS and women's college soccer for ESPNsoccernet. She also writes for topdrawersoccer.com, lasoccernews.com, soccer365.com and contributes to a blog, Sideline Views. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.