PHILADELPHIA – The Trinidad and Tobago women's team arrived in the United States two weeks ago without enough money for lunch. Now they're a win away from going to the Women's World Cup.
Trinidad and Tobago, known as the Soca Princesses, could be the Cinderella story of soccer's premier tournament next year in Canada.
But first they'll need to face Costa Rica on Friday in the semifinal of the CONCACAF Women's Championship. The United States plays Mexico in the other semifinal at PPL Park. The championship and third-place matches are set for Sunday.
The top three finishers in the championship among teams from the North and Central America and Caribbean region will earn a ticket to the World Cup. Canada, as hosts, has already secured a spot.
So even if Trinidad and Tobago doesn't win on Friday, the team will have one more chance to get in on Sunday. The fourth-place finisher will also get another shot to make the expanded 24-team World Cup field, but not until later this year in a match against Ecuador.
No Caribbean nation has ever qualified for a women's World Cup.
The Soca Princesses, who have also been beset by injuries, gave the United States their closest game, falling just 1-0 in the opening match of the tournament. Trinidad and Tobago then beat Haiti and Guatemala to finish 2-1 and second in their group behind the undefeated U.S. women.
"We knew U.S. was going to be a challenging one. For us we always believed that we were a class above Haiti and Guatemala," captain Maylee Attin-Johnson said.
Trinidad and Tobago became the sentimental favorites of the tournament when they arrived in the United States for training with no equipment and only about $500. Volunteer coach Randy Waldrum, who also coaches the Houston Dash of the National Women's Soccer League, went to Twitter to plead for help.
There was an outpouring of support. A soccer website, KeeperNotes.com, set up a PayPal account to take donations. Haiti's national team pledged all of the funds they had raised to train in Indiana — just before the Clinton Foundation stepped in and said it planned to support the Haitian women for the long-term.
After the close opener against the Soca Princesses, the United States went on to rout Guatemala 5-0 and Haiti 6-0.
The American victory over Guatemala was marked by the loss of forward Alex Morgan, who sprained her left ankle and will miss four to six weeks. Morgan injured the same ankle last October and was sidelined seven months.
Costa Rica also swept its group, finishing ahead of Mexico.
The U.S. team has been ranked No. 1 in the world for the past five years and was the easy favorite going into the CONCACAF tournament.
Back in 2010 they were also expected to have an easy run through qualifying but they were stunned by Mexico in the semifinals.
The 2-1 loss in Cancun ultimately forced the United States into a two-game playoff against Italy which the team won 2-0 on aggregate. At the World Cup in Germany the next year, the United States fell to Japan in the final on penalty kicks.
"Three down. Now we go on to the next one," U.S. forward Carli Lloyd said.