COUVA: The final path to the World Cup involved an unexpected water crossing for the United States.
Heavy rain on this Caribbean island 7½ miles off the coast of Venezuela left the center of Ato Boldon Stadium's field soggy, the flanks submerged and the encircling running track flooded. While the team's 10,000 pounds of equipment included 200 boots, 65 balls, 60 rain jackets and 30 cases of Powerade, a Bailey bridge was not in the inventory, so many American players were carried onto the field in an attempt to keep their feet somewhat dry for the final training session before Tuesday's match against Trinidad and Tobago.
"I saw the field and I just kind of giggled," star American midfielder Christian Pulisic said.
The Trinidad and Tobago Football Association said in a statement that water will be pumped off the track and "all parties are confident the game will be contested." It said the decision whether to use the field is up to the match commissioner, Hector Canchola of Mexico.
Hoisted on a shoulder of trainer Luis Ramirez, defender DeAndre Yedlin said he had not been carried onto a soccer field since he was 3 or 4.
"I would love to see one of these hotshot teams from Europe come here and play in our CONCACAF qualifying and really get a taste of this and see what that's about," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "This is like survival of the fittest. They could do one of those TV shows on this."
A temperature of about 80 is forecast. Arena predicted a slow and sloppy game.
"If after inspecting the field tomorrow morning the field conditions are not playable, then a decision will be made," U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said. "But at this point, absolutely playable."
The U.S. would secure its eighth straight World Cup berth with a win and almost certainly with a tie because of the Americans' superior goal difference.
A defeat would lead to elimination if Panama beats visiting Costa Rica and Honduras wins at home against Mexico in games that start simultaneously. If the U.S. loses and one of those fails to win, the Americans would advance to a two-match playoff next month against Australia or Syria. If both Central American rivals fail to win, the U.S. would qualify even with a defeat.
Losses in home qualifiers to Mexico in November and Costa Rica last month put the U.S. in this precarious position. The Americans had not entered their last qualifier uncertain of a berth since November 1989, when Paul Caligiuri's 30th-minute goal gave them a 1-0 win at Trinidad and put the U.S. in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.
"If you want to play in a World Cup, you deal with nights like tomorrow and you find a way to not only deal with them, but to come out on top in more of them than you don't," American captain Michael Bradley said.
Bradley said players will be aware of the other scores, which will determine how much they need to press for goals or fall back.
"One million percent," Bradley said. "How could it not?"
Twenty-eight years ago, the U.S. needed a win and T&T would have reached its first World Cup with a draw.
"It was also what was on the line for U.S. Soccer. We were broke," Caligiuri said. "We'd be stripped from the World Cup and not host it in 1994. The majority of us would not have jobs. We wouldn't be playing professional soccer."
That match was in Port-of-Spain's National Stadium before an overflow crowd of 35,000. This one is 24 miles south near the world's largest methanol factory, in a 16-year-old, 10,000-capacity venue named after a gold medal-winning Olympic sprinter.
Already eliminated, Trinidad has lost six straight qualifiers. Using a roster entirely of players under 30, the Soca Warriors changed eight starters Friday at Mexico and wasted a second-half lead in a 3-1 loss.
Pulisic limped off the field during Friday's 4-0 rout of Panama after he was kicked in the back of the left calf by Michael Murillo. He said the calf was improving, but the waterlogged sward limited the U.S. to jogging and some ball work behind the goal.
"Couldn't do much at training," Pulisic said. "I got to move around a little bit, and, yeah, kind of see where I was at."
Along with its statement, the TTFA emailed a photo from the Snow Classico four years ago, when the U.S. beat Costa Rica during a storm in Commerce City, Colorado.
"Hopefully," Arena said, "it doesn't snow tomorrow."
NOTES: The referee is Juan Carlos Guerra of Guatemala, who worked the Americans' exhibition against New Zealand last October. ... A player carrying a yellow would be suspended for a playoff opener if he gets a card Tuesday. Single yellow cards are wiped out if the U.S. qualifies, but an American who gets two yellow cards Tuesday or a red would be suspended for a World Cup opener.