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Reach for the skies: USA host Soca Warriors in Colorado, 5,223 feet above sea level!

Hold your breath. The Trinidad and Tobago National Senior Team will have the additional pressure of altitude when they travel to face one of their most formidable opponents, the United States, in their next Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying match on 8 June 2017.

The United States Soccer Federation (USSF) announced today that it will host the Soca Warriors in Commerce City, Colorado at the home of Major League Soccer (MLS) team, Colorado Rapids. The venue is 5,223 feet above sea level.

Photo: United States forward Jozy Altidore (left) tries to escape from Trinidad and Tobago defender Carlyle Mitchell during FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the EverBank Field on 6 September 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Copyright Sam Greenwood/Getty Images/AFP)
Photo: United States forward Jozy Altidore (left) tries to escape from Trinidad and Tobago defender Carlyle Mitchell during FIFA 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the EverBank Field on 6 September 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida.
(Copyright Sam Greenwood/Getty Images/AFP)

Trinidad and Tobago defender Mekeil Williams should feel at home as he is in his second season at the Rapids. But for the rest of the squad—and, in particular, the home-based players who live at sea level—it could mean the customary issues of strength and stamina while playing at altitude, as a result of the reduction in oxygen pressure.

In 10 attempts spanning 52 years of World Cup qualifying football, Trinidad and Tobago have never managed a single point at altitude.

The Warriors lost all seven trips to San Jose and Cartago in Costa Rica—at 3,845 and 4,707 feet above sea level respectively—with 18 goals conceded and a solitary item scored  – by Jerren Nixon 21 years ago in 1996.

There have been just three trips to the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, which is 7,350 feet above sea level, and those ended  in 7-0, 3-0 and 2-1 defeats. Winger Hayden Tinto scored Trinidad and Tobago’s lone goal in Mexico City in 2009.

It is not unusual for the USSF to try to gain maximum advantage from playing at home by taking visiting teams to the most uncomfortable city they can find. In this case, however, the “Yanks” might be looking beyond Trinidad and Tobago.

Photo: Mexico forward Javier Hernandez (right) tries unsuccessfully to evade a tackle from Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Kevan George during 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain on 28 March 2017. (Copyright AFP 2017/Alfredo Estrella)
Photo: Mexico forward Javier Hernandez (right) tries unsuccessfully to evade a tackle from Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Kevan George during 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain on 28 March 2017.
(Copyright AFP 2017/Alfredo Estrella)

On 11 June, the United States travel to face group leaders, Mexico, at the Azteca Stadium and coach Bruce Arena hopes to use Colorado to prepare his team for Mexico City, which is just over 2,000 feet higher than Commerce City.

The United States will prepare for the Warriors with a friendly in Utah—at 4,449 feet above sea level—as well as with a week-long training camp at altitude before their June qualifier.

It would make sense for Trinidad and Tobago head coach Dennis Lawrence to do likewise but he will obviously need the support of  the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association (TTFA). However, those of his players who are in Eastern Europe, Asia and the MLS will still be in their domestic seasons and may not be released by their clubs.

Winger Levi Garcia, forward Willis Plaza and midfielders Khaleem Hyland and Andre Boucaud, as well as Pro League players like goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams, defenders Curtis Gonzales, Daneil Cyrus and Carlos Edwards and striker Jamille Boatswain should all be available, pending release by their club.

And, on the bright side, coming only three days earlier, the Colorado trip could mean that the Warriors are well acclimatised for their own excursion to San Jose, which is some 2,000 feet lower.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Kevin Molino weighs up his options during 2018 World Cup qualifying action against Panama at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 24 March 2017. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago midfielder Kevin Molino weighs up his options during 2018 World Cup qualifying action against Panama at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 24 March 2017.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

Trinidad and Tobago’s last match at altitude went well enough as the Warriors held Mexico 3-3 in an international friendly at Salt Lake City, Utah on 4 September 2015, under then coach Stephen Hart.

The Warriors, who trail the fourth-placed USA outfit by one point at present, can feasibly be cut adrift if they fail to pick up a point in their next two matches.

As Mexico, Panama, Costa Rica and the United States all have home matches, the gap to fourth—and a FIFA Play-off contest against Asia’s fifth-placed team—could stretch to over four points if results go against the Warriors.

At present, the Asian representative looks likely to be either Australia or Uzbekistan.

Altitude or not, Trinidad and Tobago have not managed a point in the United States since Hutson Charles’ late equaliser in a 1-1 tie in California on 13 May 1989.

If captain Kenwyne Jones and company want to follow in the footsteps of the history-making 2006 Warriors, they might need to create their own history at altitude.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago winger Joevin Jones (centre) terrorises United States players DeAndre Yedlin (right) and Michael Orozco during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain. (Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago winger Joevin Jones (centre) terrorises United States players DeAndre Yedlin (right) and Michael Orozco during Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

The skipper’s namesake, Joevin Jones, vowed that the current national team will fight to the final whistle.

“We have six games to go and everything to play for,” Joevin told the TTFA Media. “Playing on the road in the next two games is going to be a challenge but I believe in the squad and the coaching staff.

“And I think once we can keep our heads together and continue working hard, then we can get some points on the road and set things up for our next set of games in Trinidad.”

The Women Soca Warriors might wonder what all the fuss is about, though. On 8 November 2014, the Trinidad and Tobago Women’s National Senior Team managed a goalless draw in Quito, Ecuador, which is 9,350 feet above sea level—and comfortably 2,000 feet higher than the Azteca.

Sadly, the heroic result was wasted as the Women Warriors fell 1-0 to Ecuador in Port of Spain a month later to miss out on a maiden appearance at a senior FIFA Women’s World Cup.

AboutLasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the CEO and Editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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121 comments

  1. How do the other MLS teams handle it? Joevin, Molino, and to a lesser extent Aubrey David may be able to offer some insight.

    • I read something which shows that US teams treat with it differently according to the nature of the game.
      For play offs, they try to go as early as they can to acclimatize but they are more flippant during regular season. This is in American football n

    • The USA has a very good record there. Five games played, four games won, and only one loss. Plus they’ve only conceded one goal in those five games.

  2. If qualifying means a lot to us, the team would be training in high-altitude conditions for about 2 weeks before the game rather than complaining about the breathing conditions after the game.

  3. Steuuuupes…. Well allyuh come early nah. How big ppl chip it so…? (tuh coin ah Comedian phrase). USA does come early tuh geh used to we heat.

  4. The US is using us as preparation for their Mexico match in d Azteca 4 days after….they know they can beat us anywhere…so we r just a practis match for them…they want to play at altitude…for their Mexico match…has nuttin to do with us…:-)