Almost 20 years after Paul Caligiuri's historic World Cup berth-securing goal in Trinidad, the U.S. men's national team is once again heading to Port of Spain. And while it might seem natural to revel in the nostalgia of that unforgettable moment two decades ago when Caligiuri gave the United States its first World Cup berth in 40 years, the Americans had better be sure not to forget the lessons of the match it just played two days ago.
The U.S. team's 2-1 win versus El Salvador was ugly and left plenty of question marks for an American squad that is far from home free in a qualifying race that has grown tighter with each passing week. As impressive as the U.S. attack was at creating chances, it also wasted many of them, and as much as the Americans won the possession battle, they also committed bad turnovers that gave El Salvador some extremely dangerous chances.
Trinidad & Tobago's qualifying hopes are on life support, and essentially impossible, but that won't stop the hosts from wanting to knock off the Americans and maybe score some payback for that 1989 loss that cost T&T a World Cup berth.
So what should the Americans take away from Saturday's victory?
1. Jonathan Bornstein is not the answer at left back.
It is hard to argue that Bornstein wasn't the worst player on the field for the Americans versus El Salvador. He lacked confidence on the ball, struggled with El Salvador's shifty attackers and provided nothing going forward. In short, he did little to instill confidence in his being able to do the job at left back during this qualifying campaign.
That leaves us with this question: Who will coach Bob Bradley turn to? Does he move Carlos Bocanegra to left back and give Chad Marshall a start alongside Oguchi Onyewu if Jay DeMerit can't play? Does he move Jonathan Spector to left back, where he has played for West Ham this season, and start Steve Cherundolo at right back?
Bocanegra is a better option than he gets credit for. Two disappointing performances by Bocanegra that stand out are versus Brazil in the Confederations Cup final and last month versus Mexico. He didn't play well in either of those matches (he played left back in both), but he also went up against Brazil's Elano and Maicon and Mexico's Giovani Dos Santos. Not exactly chopped liver. Bocanegra starts at left back from French club Rennes and has enough ability and experience to play well against most opponents.
Bradley's decision about left back is especially crucial versus Trinidad & Tobago, which boasts speedy winger Carlos Edwards on the right flank. DaMarcus Beasley did a good job of neutralizing Edwards when these teams met on April 1, but none of the current left-back options boasts Beasley's speed, meaning whoever starts at left back will need some help to slow down the Ipswich midfielder.
2. The central midfield must be more careful.
The tandem of Michael Bradley (the coach's son) and Benny Feilhaber figured to produce more chances and establish more possession than a potential Bradley-Ricardo Clark central midfield pairing, but the duo also showed some flaws, including their penchant for getting forward in unison and leaving a large gap in front of the defense for the counterattacking Salvadorans to exploit.
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U.S. vs. Trinidad and Tobago
Hasely Crawford Stadium, Port of Spain, Trinidad
6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Classic, ESPN360.com
While that could be explained away by the desire for the Americans to take the space in central midfield left open by El Salvador, what could not be explained or justified was the handful of unforced and sloppy turnovers at the edge of the defensive third, an area of the field where mistakes are usually punished. Bradley was guilty of this on a handful of occasions, and while none of the sequences produced a goal, making similar mistakes against Trinidad & Tobago, which boasts standout forward Kenwyne Jones, could be costly.
Will Bob Bradley stick with Feilhaber and Michael Bradley? Don't be surprised to see Bradley and Clark get the nod, with the focus being on controlling possession and cutting off passing lanes to T&T's forward tandem of Jones and Cornell Glen.
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3. Altidore and Davies should be the forward tandem
This wasn't really a revelation to U.S. fans who have been clamoring for the Altidore-Davies duo since the Confederations Cup, but the El Salvador match showed us yet again that the supremely talented youngsters should remain the starting forwards.
There were concerns heading into the El Salvador match about Altidore's fitness, but he answered those with a stellar 83-minute performance that saw him score the game winner and add a second disallowed goal that should have counted.
Davies was also dangerous, having one shot cleared off the line and another go wide by inches. He showed a good understanding with Landon Donovan and his speed offers a perfect complement to Altidore's power.
Perhaps it is fitting that Altidore and Davies will get the start versus Trinidad on Wednesday. It was in Port of Spain last October that we first caught a glimpse of what they could do together, as Altidore set up a Davies goal in a 2-1 loss to T&T.
4. Stuart Holden has earned the role of super sub.
Holden followed up his good outing versus Mexico with another energetic and effective substitute performance versus El Salvador. His speed, tenacity and attacking qualities make him the ideal bench option, and now that he has provided a boost for a second straight qualifier, it will be tough to keep him off the field on Wednesday, especially when legs begin to tire from a second qualifier in four days.
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5. Jose Francisco Torres merits more minutes.
He played only six minutes, but Torres made the most of that cameo versus El Salvador, powering a beautiful header at goal that only a highlight-reel save could stop. It was his first national team appearance of any kind since getting the halftime hook in the U.S. team's 3-0 loss to Costa Rica in June. He looked confident in his brief appearance on Saturday and will merit longer looks in the U.S. team's remaining qualifiers.
If the Americans can embrace the lessons learned from Saturday's win, both the good ones and the bad ones, they should be able to record a win and move a step closer to the 2010 World Cup.
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Ives Galarcep covers the U.S. national team and MLS for ESPN Soccernet. He also writes a blog, Soccer By Ives. He can be reached at Ivespn79@aol.com.