US could open WCup qualifying in Trinidad, site of '17 loss

Chelsea's Christian Pulisic celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the FA Cup final soccer match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley stadium in London, England, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. (Adam Davy/Pool via AP)
Chelsea's Christian Pulisic celebrates after scoring the opening goal during the FA Cup final soccer match between Arsenal and Chelsea at Wembley stadium in London, England, Saturday, Aug. 1, 2020. (Adam Davy/Pool via AP)

NEW YORK – The United States could start qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Trinidad, where the Americans flopped on the final night three years ago and failed to reach the 2018 tournament.

“We know what happened last time around, and it could just be an opportunity for us to go out, start really strong right away and obviously get some revenge there, as well,” star attacker Christian Pulisic said after Wednesday's draw. “So that would be a really big game.”

The Americans open their 14-match round with four games next June and close in early 2022 with a difficult stretch. They are at Mexico on Feb. 1, 2022, probably in the altitude of Mexico City's Estadio Azteca; play at home on March 25, most likely against Panama or Curaçao, then finish March 29 at Costa Rica, where they have lost seven straight qualifiers.

“You have 11 games before that to get the group used to playing in these qualifying games and then you have two of the harder opponents away from home,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “The other way to look at it is if you can take care of all your business beforehand, you could be a very good position going in those games.”

The U.S. qualified for seven straight World Cups before missing the 2018 tournament. The Americans are among five nations with direct berths in the final round of North and Central American and Caribbean qualifying — known as the octagonal — joined by Mexico, Costa Rica, Honduras and Jamaica.

A much transformed team is headed by Pulisic and could include goalkeeper Zack Steffen, defender Sergiño Dest, midfielders Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams and Gio Reyna, and forward Josh Sargent.

Defender Tim Ream recalled the opening home loss to Mexico followed by a 4-0 defeat at Costa Rica in the last hexagonal and predicted the new group will handle qualifying more adroitly. Even though he was 30 at the time of the October 2017 defeat at Couva, Trinidad, Ream remembered being one of the younger American players on the bench.

“You look at these guys who are 21, 22 years old, and they've brought a youthfulness, an exuberance into the team and with the youthfulness brings legs, it brings energy, it brings excitement,” he said. “First time around, we didn’t get off on the right foot, obviously, in the beginning of qualifying and we were always playing catch up. So I think with these young guys now, we’re looking to be on top from the very first game.”