Tuesday, September 09, 2008

ATH: U.S. Team scouting report

Scouting Report: Trinidad & Tobago
By Clemente Lisi

With the US beating Cuba on Saturday, the players have only four days before making their home World Cup Qualifying debut against Trinidad & Tobago in Bridgeview, IL (Wednesday, 8pm – ESPN2). If Cuba is a regional minnow, T&T certainly isn’t.

The Soca Warriors are coming off a hard-fought 1-1 tie at home against Guatemala and are a much more familiar opponent for the United States. That said, injuries and absences over the past year have Trinidad & Tobago fielding a different XI than expected.

Moving from 102nd to 92nd spot in the latest FIFA rankings, T&T has remained competitive despite the injuries. Coach Francisco “Pacho” Maturana, who took over from former manager Leo Beenhakker, has had to make do without the services of striker Kenwyne Jones, left back Avery John and playmaker Aurtis Whitley.

The team has also had to deal with the inconsistent services of Dwight Yorke, who suffered a fractured cheekbone over the summer after vowing to come out of international retirement. Yorke’s return on Saturday made the squad even stronger, but the 36-year-old Sunderland ace will miss Wednesday’s game at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. after his country’s soccer federation said the veteran midfielder suffered a thigh injury against Guatemala.

But Yorke, who assisted on midfielder Keon Daniel’s goal that had given T&T a temporary lead late in the game, said he had to fly back to England on Tuesday on orders from his club in preparation for Saturday’s Premier League match against Wigan.

“I am feeling caught between a rock and a hard place with my club and my country,” Yorke told the Trinidad Express on Sunday. “I want to play against the US but I don’t know if I will be allowed to.”

The club is obligated by FIFA to make players available for World Cup qualifiers, but it appears unlikely that T&T will file a complaint because there is little time for recourse.
Maturana has coached nine club and five national teams – including four separate stints with his native Colombia – before arriving at T&T in February. Under his guidance, the Soca Warriors have played very well. He has favored an attack-minded 4-4-2 lineup that sometimes morphs into a defensive 4-5-1 after his team takes a lead. In fact, Maturana has called up 12 different strikers since taking over seven months ago, and he isn’t afraid to unleash them on opponents.

A pitfall for the US is to underestimate T&T’s attack. Even without Yorke and Jones, the 13-time Caribbean Cup champions have the firepower up front.

Striker Cornell Glen, who spent four seasons in Major League Soccer, has scored 16 goals in 44 national team appearances since 2002. He possesses a powerful shot and is dangerous in the penalty box.

Aiding the attack is Daniel, who has scored five goals (three in his last two games) since making his National Team debut last year. A free kick specialist, Daniel isn’t afraid to push up and stretch opposing defenses, as he did during his two-goal performance against Cuba last month. He is a player the US needs to mark – if not double-team – on Wednesday night.

The US also needs to avoid falling behind to the Soca Warriors. Other opponents have been unable to come back because of T&T’s ability to maintain possession and flood their half of the field with players. Guatemala was able to tie the game on Saturday, but only in stoppage time.

Against Guatemala, T&T were devoid of creativity and imagination for much of the game. The US needs to take advantage of those instances to get one past the Trinidad & Tobago defense, which has had some solid performances from Dennis Lawrence and Clyde Leon. Without John, however, T&T lacks the experience in the back that can stop the likes of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan.

T&T is beatable. A United States win would all but put the US in the final round of qualifying – and one more step closer to South Africa.

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