Even after an uncharacteristically slow start to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying, the United States could put itself back into one of the coveted top three spots in the standings with a win over Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday.
With third-place Panama traveling to second-place Costa Rica also on Thursday, a U.S. win in Commerce City, Colo., and a tie or loss by Panama would see the teams swap places at the midway point of the 10-match qualifying phase.
The U.S. (1-2-1, 4 points) would still face a tough start to the second half of that schedule with a trip to qualifying leader Mexico in Mexico City on Sunday.
"I think this is another good opportunity for us to rack up points and move up the table," U.S. forward Jozy Altidore said on mlssoccer.com. "It's an important game. When you look at the table, (if we win) we're still where we want to be. Regardless of who we play on Sunday, this is a big game."
The top three teams at the end of that phase automatically qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The fourth-place team will face a two-match playoff against the fifth-place team from Asian qualifying late next fall.
The Americans, now coached by Bruce Arena, are an unbeaten 8-0-1 on home soil in qualifying against last-place Trinidad and Tobago (1-3-0, 3 points), which reached its only World Cup finals in 2006. The United States already faced the Soca Warriors twice in the four-team semifinal-round group, drawing 0-0 away in November 2015 and winning 4-0 at home in September 2016.
The visitors will also have the challenge of playing at Colorado's altitude against the U.S., which has already played to a 1-1 draw in a friendly against Venezuela Saturday in Utah.
"It was important for the other players, including the home-based ones to get here a bit earlier and settle in," T&T defender Aubrey David said in the Trinidad Guardian. "The last couple days were good in that players were showing good signs in training and being able to execute what the coach wants without any issues."
American defender John Brooks has returned to training after sustaining a thigh injury in the draw against Venezuela. For Trinidad and Tobago, defender/midfielder Cordell Cato will not play after coach Dennis Lawrence dismissed him for disciplinary reasons.