The U.S. Men’s National Team will open its 2021 slate against Concacaf foe Trinidad and Tobago on Jan. 31 at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Fla. (7 p.m. ET; FS1, UniMas, TUDN)
Here are five things to know about the Soca Warriors before the USMNT’s first match of the new year.
While cricket was Trinidad and Tobago’s first leading sport, soccer was introduced in the 1890s, inter-colonial club matches started soon after and the Trinidad and Tobago Football Federation was formed in 1908.
The island nation gained its independence in 1962 and joined FIFA as a full-fledged member association in 1964. Nine years later, the Soca Warriors fell just short of qualifying for the 1974 World Cup in West Germany when they fell 2-1 to Haiti after some controversial officiating following which two of the match’s referees banned for life by FIFA. Trinidad and Tobago faced heartbreak again during qualifying for the 1990 World Cup. Needing only a draw to qualify for the tournament in Italy, the visiting United States used Paul Caligiuri’s famous “Shot Heard Round the World” to top the hosts 1-0 and qualify for its first World Cup since 1950.
Trinidad finally reached international soccer’s biggest stage in 2006. Rallying from a slow start to the qualifying tournament, the Soca Warriors reached an intercontinental playoff with Bahrain. After a 1-1 draw at home, the Caribbean country won 1-0 on the road to book its ticket to Germany, becoming the smallest nation to qualify for the World Cup until Iceland in 2018.
The Soca Warriors have also found some success in regional and sub-regional competition. Trinidad has qualified for 10 of 15 Concacaf Gold Cups, highlighted by a third-place finish in 2000. They were also the most successful team in the now-defunct Caribbean Cup, winning the tourney a record eight times.
AGAINST THE USA
The USA is 19-3-4 against Trinidad and Tobago all-time and has never lost to the island nation on home soil. Sunday’s match is the USMNT’s first friendly match vs. Trinidad since 1994 and just its fifth all-time.
The two nations have some memorable history, with each denying the other of a place in the FIFA World Cup on the final day of qualifying.
In 1989, the USMNT visited Port of Spain for its final World Cup qualifying match, needing a win to qualify for its first World Cup since 1950, while the hosts only needed a draw to book their first World Cup berth. In front of a raucous over-capacity crowd, the USA shocked Trinidad and Tobago 1-0 with a legendary goal from midfielder Paul Caligiuri that would be known as “the shot heard ‘round the world” and send the U.S. to the 1990 FIFA World Cup in Italy – its first tournament appearance in 40 years.
Eighteen years later, on the final day of qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Trinidad & Tobago exacted revenge. The circumstances were slightly different, with the USMNT only needing a draw to book its World Cup ticket, while T&T had already been eliminated. The Soca Warriors benefitted from a first-half own goal, then a wonder strike from Alvin Jones to upset the USMNT 2-1 at Ato Boldon Stadium in Couva.
The two regional rivals last met at the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup, a 6-0 win for the United States that marked its largest margin of victory vs. Trinidad and tied its largest margin of victory at the Gold Cup. Defender Aaron Long, currently in camp with the USMNT, and forward Gyasi Zardes bagged braces to lead the way in Cleveland, Ohio. The goals were the first of Long’s international career and he made history that night by becoming the first USMNT defender to record two goals in a match.
LAST TIME OUT
Trinidad and Tobago hasn’t taken the field for international action in 14 months, last falling to Honduras 4-0 in November 2019 during Concacaf Nations League action.
Playing in Nations League A after reaching the final round of 2018 World Cup qualifying, the Soca Warriors were drawn into Group C alongside Honduras and Martinique. After two hard-fought draws with Martinique, Trinidad and Tobago dropped both matches to Honduras to finish third in the group and face relegation to League B.
BIG YEAR AHEAD
After a long layoff from national team activity, Trinidad and Tobago will return to major international action this year within Concacaf. The dual-island nation kicks off the first round of 2022 World Cup qualifying during the March international window. Seeded as the top team in Group F, Trinidad will face Saint Kitt’s and Nevis, Guyana, Puerto Rico and Bahamas. The group winner after round robin play will face the winner of Group A in a two-leg playoff to join the USA in the eight-team final round of qualifying. Should Trinidad & Tobago make it through those two rounds, they would host the USA in the opening match of the final round of qualifying this September.