Tim Howard’s clean sheet led the U.S. Men’s National Team to a 2-0 victory over his Colorado Rapids teammate Mekeil Williams and the Trinidad & Tobago National Team on Thursday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
The USMNT gained a much-needed three points in what head coach Bruce Arena labeled a must-win match. With Costa Rica and Panama playing to a 0-0 draw later in the night, the USMNT took sole position of third place in the North American World Cup Qualifying table. The top three teams earn automatic bids for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Despite having not started for the Rapids since May 5 when he was shown a red card late in Colorado’s win over the Vancouver Whitecaps, Williams was one of the Soca Warriors’ best players on the field. His assignment for the majority of the night was to mark the physical, goal-scoring Jozy Altidore. Even though Altidore has four inches on him, Williams frustrated the USMNT striker all night.
Altidore ended the game with a few shots on goal, but none that truly threatened Trinidad & Tobago’s goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams, who played a stellar game of his own. Head coach Dennis Lawrence praised Mekeil’s play after the game despite the loss, and even had some kind words for the Colorado Rapids organization.
“Mekeil, he played well,” Lawrence said. “He came very early to camp along with permission from Colorado, which I need to thank again for giving us Mekeil.”
Whether Williams’ performance with the T&T national team will factor into Pablo Mastroeni’s decision making moving forward is to be seen, but Williams only helped his cause. Also, the fact that the Rapids have four games in 12 days beginning on June 13 against the USL side OKC Energy in the U.S. Open Cup will likely force Mastroeni to give nearly every player available on the roster playing time. Williams will likely have an opportunity to make his case for more playing time moving forward.
The other Rapid on the pitch had yet another perfect game in the red, white and blue. Howard shut out the surprisingly plucky Soca Warriors, but he wasn’t tested all that much. He faced only two shots on goal for the entire night, and only one really tested him.
After the game, in front of a sell-out crowd of 19,188 people, Williams and Howard participated in a jersey exchange to show that there are no hard feelings; international competitions are just business. Howard said after the game that the gesture was a sign of mutual respect.
“It’s the greatest sign of respect to do battle with somebody and then exchange shirts,” Howard said. “I think it’s such an incredible gesture throughout sports and it’s special. So, he’s a teammate, he’s a guy who I love, I love him as a teammate, as a brother and it’s tough result for them, but obviously they’ll bounce back against Costa Rica.”
There was also the matter of the friendly wager between Howard and Williams. The bet was that if T&T pulled off the upset against the USMNT, Howard would have to move his locker next to the rookies on the team. Since the result was the other way around, Williams will be forced to relocate his locker next to the bathrooms. When will this take place? According to Williams, very soon.
“The first day we get back,” he said.
The USMNT has a quick turnaround and a tough matchup ahead of them. The travel to Mexico City to take on El Tri in the legendary Estadio Azteca – a place that the USMNT has never won – on Sunday. T&T will take on Costa Rica in Costa Rica on the same day.
The Rapids’ next game is the aforementioned U.S. Open Cup game, which will be held at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Their next MLS match is again at home on June 17 against the Portland Timbers.