CLEVELAND -- U.S. men's national team manager Gregg Berhalter stressed that his team needs to be patient in order to defeat Trinidad & Tobago in its Gold Cup group stage match on Saturday.
T&T has historically been a team that sat back and used their speed to hit teams on the break, but manager Dennis Lawrence and midfielder Kevan George both spoke during their press conference about possessing the ball better than they did against Panama, with George even going so far as to say T&T was a "possession-based team."
But Berhalter is anticipating that the Soca Warriors will play to their traditional strengths.
"What we see is a team that likes to play on the counterattack," he said about T&T. "They are very good in low-block defending. They're very good at defensive set pieces. They are a big, physical team when they're defending in the penalty box, and they stay organized in mostly a 4-5-1 low block defending, and are difficult to breakdown.
"I haven't seen the possession so much, I think there are stretches in games when they can possess the ball, but I don't think that's their hallmark. They have good players, they're experienced players in the squad, a lot of the same guys that have been playing, but they know each other pretty well. Again, it's going to be a good challenge for our group [Saturday]."
Given that Berhalter is anticipating an approach from the Soca Warriors that emphasizes sitting back in defense, he is stressing speed of play in breaking the opposition down.
"I think it's speed of ball movement, getting behind the back line, trying to put balls between the backline and the goalkeeper, really putting pressure on the defense," he said. "It's a combination of things, but you definitely need speed in what you're doing. When you let them get set and you're not moving them around, it's very easy to defend. We need to move them around and try to create some chances. For us, and it's something I've stressed to the group is being patient, just being patient in the game. It's a 90-minute soccer game, and I think that's a key message to our group."
One question heading into the match is the status of midfielder Weston McKennie and forward Jozy Altidore. Berhalter sounded a bit cautious about McKennie's availability in light of a hamstring injury he sustained in the 4-0 win against Guyana.
"Weston has been receiving treatment, and he was able to train today in some capacity, so I think the outlook looks pretty good," he said. "We'll have to see and keep monitoring him."
As for Altidore, who has also been dealing with a hamstring injury, Berhalter said he is keen to get the striker back on the field.
"Jozy has been doing a good job," said Berhalter. "He's been training hard, and hope to be able to use him soon. What happened in the last game, it became difficult to use him because of the substitution pattern, and then the injury to Weston. We couldn't use him that game. Jozy is a guy we believe in, Jozy is a guy we think can help this team, and we want him to get him involved as soon as possible."
The match marks the first time that the two sides met in a World Cup qualifier back in 2017, a 2-1 win for the Soca Warriors that knocked the U.S. out of the World Cup. T&T manager Lawrence isn't putting any focus on the match.
"The US didn't go to the World Cup and neither did Trinidad & Tobago," he said. "So at the end of it, it was a football game that we managed to win. We know we're in a different tournament. It's a totally different ball game for us, so we've got absolutely no interest in that aspect of it. For us it's about trying to progress and stay alive in the tournament that is important for our country."
Berhalter was also full of praise for the U.S. women's national team, who will take on Spain in a round-of-16 match on Monday.
"I am watching the women's games, and I think they've been doing a great job," he said. "It's a very dynamic attack. I like how intent they are on getting forward, playing forward, a lot of forward momentum in their game. It's been fun to watch. I'm really excited to see the game against Spain, and I'm wishing them really good luck and we're following them closely."