Bruce Arena: “I would love to see one of these hot-shot teams from Europe come here and play in our CONCACAF qualifying, to really get a taste of this and see what that’s about.” (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
COUVA, Trinidad — When the U.S. packed for its final game of the CONCACAF Hexagonal for World Cup qualifying, of course, they packed shorts.
Whether they brought swimming trunks is another matter.
When the Americans showed up for training at Ato Boldon Stadium Tuesday morning, they were greeted by a moat on the track that surrounds the field.
Welcome to CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, where you must expect the unexpected to get through the process in one piece.
Needless to say, U.S. head coach Bruce Arena could not believe what he saw on the field.
“I would love to see one of these hot-shot teams from Europe come here and play in our CONCACAF qualifying, to really get a taste of this and see what that’s about,” Arena during a press conference Monday. “This is very challenging. This is like survival of the fittest. They could do one of those TV shows on this. Who will survive in the end? That’s basically what this is.”
The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association said in a statement the game would go on.
In September, the match was switched from Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain to this town 25 miles to the south. The stadium seat 10,000 and a small crowd is expected for a mid-week game hosted by a team that has won but once in the Hex.
No one anticipated this much rain. Trinidad has endured a wet rainy season, which runs from June to December. It certainly didn’t help that a heavy storm hit the island Sunday.
“The conditions weren’t perfect for training,” Arena said. “But we’re anticipating that everything will work out and we’ll be ready to play at the stadium tomorrow.
“It was a little heavy and mushy, to be expected with all that rain that you saw. It definitely changes the way the game is going to look.
“It’ll be a slow game, probably a little bit sloppy, a little bit different to what we’ve seen so far in the qualifying games. But we’ll have to adapt.”
If the visitors do, they will reach their eighth consecutive World Cup.
The Americans (3-3-3, 12 points; plus 5 goal differential) can do that by defeating last-place Trinidad (1-8-0, 3). A draw would most likely would propel the Americans into Russia 2018 because of a superior goal differential they have over fourth-place Panama (2-3-4, 10; minus 2) and fifth-place Honduras (2-3-4, 10; minus 7).
Arena said he would never have his team play for a draw.
“It’s never easy going into a game saying we have to play for a point,” he said. “We’re going out to win the game. I feel confident. We have a good team.
“Tomorrow’s going to be challenging. Hopefully there’s not too much rain between now and kick off and the field conditions improve.”
A U.S. loss would open the door for both Central American sides, who would have to defeat Costa Rica and Mexico, respectively.
“People take it for granted and say that you should just qualify,” said defender DaMarcus Beasley, participating in his fifth qualifying competition. “People don’t understand how big qualifying for the World Cup is, how much blood, sweat and hard work goes into a qualifier. Hopefully we get a good result on Tuesday and we can celebrate a little bit when we do it. It’ll be a great end to a long qualifying campaign.”