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Wed, Oct

Typography

Jacksonville Armada midfielder Kevan George keeps his philosophy of soccer simple.

“It just comes down to a ball and a man,” he said.

This time, though, the ball is on the grass of EverBank Field.

And the man is George, the hard-running midfielder who, for one night, will be a visitor in front of the city he now calls home.

Homeland meets hometown for George, who prepares to line up for Trinidad and Tobago against the United States in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifying match at EverBank Field.

George, born in Roxborough, Tobago, moved to the United States in his youth. He graduated from Decatur High School in the Atlanta area and played college soccer at Central Florida.

He was drafted by Major League Soccer’s Columbus Crew in 2012 and played in the MLS before signing with the Armada on April 10. Since then, he’s become a near-automatic starter for the North American Soccer League franchise.

“The timing couldn’t be better for the city, for the club and for Kevan himself,” Armada interim head coach Mark Lowry said. “He’s just put in three great performances, so he’s going to go away confident.”

George has represented Trinidad and Tobago in 21 international games, although he wasn’t included in the national team’s most recent selection.

“It’s huge just to be part of the family,” he said. “It was just two games, but it felt like 60 months. … I’m just happy to be back.”

Trinidad and Tobago’s team, called the Soca Warriors by its exuberant fan base, has already advanced to the six-team final group in North American qualification for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

The top three in that round, which ends in October 2017, make the 32-team World Cup field.

The only prior World Cup for Trinidad and Tobago came in 2006. For George, who was 15 when he watched the team clinch its long-awaited success in November 2005, the moment is frozen in memory.

“That playoff game with Bahrain, home and away, when Chris Birchall had that long-distance shot from almost half the field,” George said. “That really stood out to me, and we have a chance to repeat history.”

The history in the series between the teams has been one-sided, with the United States holding an edge of 16-2-4 all-time and 11-1-3 in World Cup qualifiers.

The most famous matchup came Nov. 19, 1989, when a young U.S. team — including former Armada coach Tony Meola at goalkeeper — stunned the Port-of-Spain crowd in a 1-0, winner-take-all match to reach the Americans’ first World Cup since 1950.

Despite Trinidad and Tobago’s modest population of around 1.3 million, the Americans can’t take George and the Soca Warriors lightly.

At the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2015, the Trinidadians won their group ahead of favored Mexico to reach the quarterfinals.

“A lot of people were surprised, but we knew we were ready,” George said.

He’s already played against the Americans once in qualifying, starting last November and containing American captain Michael Bradley as Trinidad and Tobago held the U.S. team to a 0-0 tie.

Although the city is now familiar for George, who has played here for five months, he hasn’t previously played at EverBank Field.

“Being in his hometown, there will be a lot of people in the stadium that already know him,” Lowry said. “So that should make him feel at ease as well.”

If George gets a chance to take the field Tuesday, he said he won’t be overwhelmed by the special occasion.

“It’ll mean a lot. This is where I call home now. I’ve made a few friends here, my teammates,” George said. “But at the end of the day, it’s soccer, man. I don’t get too fazed by it.”