COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard has far too much riding on this game to even consider overlooking Trinidad and Tobago.
First and foremost, an all-important three points in the standings. Next, his friendly wager with Trinidad and Tobago defender Mekeil Williams, who is Howard’s teammate with Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids.
The bet goes something like this: Should Howard’s side win the World Cup qualifier Thursday night in Commerce City, Williams has to sit at a locker next to the bathroom. If Williams’ side wins, Howard must sit with the rookie keepers for the rest of the season.
“Hopefully, he’ll have to repay,” Howard said Tuesday after a training session on the field at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “This is as key as it gets. We need the three points at home.”
And no, Howard adamantly stressed, the Americans won’t get caught looking toward their matchup three days later in Mexico City against Mexico.
“Mexico is the furthest thing from our mind, to be honest,” Howard said. “We have to focus.”
There’s no room for anymore hiccups – for either team. The Americans are in fourth place in the six-team standings with four points, while Trinidad and Tobago is last with three points. Mexico leads the standings with 10 points. The top three teams qualify, with the fourth-place squad going to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.
“Crunch time,” Williams said in a recent interview on the Soca Warriors’ Facebook page as he also outlined his wager with Howard. “Everyone is positive and confident.”
Traditionally, the red, white and blue has fared well against Trinidad and Tobago, a country with a population around 1.4 million. The U.S. – population roughly 326 million – is 12-1-3 in World Cup qualifying against the Soca Warriors, including 7-0-1 at home.
“Come Thursday night, that’s the most important thing,” forward Jozy Altidore said. “When the whistle blows and the game is over, you think about Mexico.”
Maybe when he was younger, Altidore might have let his mind wander toward playing at Azteca Stadium and facing the hostile crowd. Not at this stage of qualifying.
“In a lot of ways, the Trinidad game is also very important and attractive in its own way,” Altidore said. “So, that’s the focus.”
Altidore arrived late to training camp after attending his brother’s wedding. He’s trying to quickly get acclimated to the elevation.
“It’s tough, man. It’s tough,” he said. “But it’s the same for everybody – the same for Trinidad. No excuses.”
The 27-year-old Altidore could be paired up top Thursday with fellow forward Clint Dempsey , who has 56 international goals and would tie Landon Donovan’s U.S. record with his next one. Altidore has certainly seen his share of Dempsey’s goals.
“To score on a consistent level over a number of years is never easy. He’s a guy that pops up in good spots,” Altidore said. “He’s able to score those grimy goals. That’s why he’s so important to us and that’s why he’s done it for such a long time.”
Looking forward to owning that record?
“The most important thing is qualify for the World Cup,” the 34-year-old Dempsey said. “That’s the most important thing. … The team looks good. It’s really competitive. Looking forward to these games and I think we have a lot of depth. I think you’ll see our best.”
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