Thursday’s World Cup Qualifier proved a tenser affair than fans might have hoped for, but the US men’s national team eventually prevailed 2-0 over Trinidad and Tobago, with Christian Pulisic providing both the goals in the second half. Both teams could have claimed a first half lead with various chances, but it was Pulisic’s two goals, ten minutes apart, that provided the final margin, as the US temporarily moved into third position in the Hexagonal group.
Bruce Arena elected to start 10 of the 11 players that began the game last weekend in a friendly against Venezuela. The only change was bringing in Jozy Altidore, who was a late arrival to camp, with Bobby Wood dropping to the bench.
Neither team started the game brightly, or with much purpose, stalling the game to a stalemate that led to an uneventful opening 15 minutes. Clint Dempsey, closing in on Landon Donovan’s scoring record for the USMNT, finally brought the game alive in the 15th minute, but his shot from range dipped just over the bar.
John Brooks, newly transferred to Wolfsburg in Germany, tried to beat T&T’s keeper, Jan-Michael Williams from range in the 25th minute, with the keeper pushing the shot wide. Moments later, Altidore and Jorge Villafana combined to create an opening, but Altidore’s shot on Villafana’s return pass was saved by Williams.
Pulisic fizzed a shot just over two minutes later, before Khaleem Hyland tried to beat Tim Howard from range, with the shot from the middle of the field skipping just wide of a diving Howard, and his post.
Kenwyne Jones beat Howard to a cross from Joevin Jones in the 33rd minute, with Brooks planted watching the ball. The big striker connected solidly on the header, but his effort smacked off the woodwork, denying Trinidad and Tobago a crucial lead in Colorado.
Villafana was denied on a long range shot in the 35th minute, and with a second chance thanks to Dempsey’s effort, Villafana was able to pick out Altidore with a cross, but the Toronto FC striker headed the ball over the goal. Altidore was the recipient of another cross two minutes later, this time from Darlington Nagbe. This time Altidore got his shot on target, but Williams did enough to tip it over the goal.
Hyland have the final chance for either team to end the half, after collecting a pass from Carlos Edwards in the middle of the park. Hyland’s shot skipped in between the legs of Geoff Cameron, but Howard was able to react quickly enough to push the shot wide, and offside was called before the Soca Warriors could capitalize on a follow up attempt.
Then, once the second half commenced, it became the Pulisic show for the USA, as the teenager bagged his sixth and seventh international goals of his young career. The first goal came from a Pacific Northwest connection, as Nagbe found Dempsey at the top of the box, with Dempsey quickly returning the ball to Nagbe. Nagbe turned to pass back to former Seattle Sounder DeAndre Yedlin, and Yedlin made the correct decision with time, sliding the ball into the front of goal, allowing Pulisic to glide in and prod home.
Though the US would end up seeing out the game rather comfortably, the Soca Warriors did have an equalizer moments later, only for an offside flag to deny Nathan Lewis a goal. Lewis was quickest to react to a cross into the box, and acrobatically finished past Howard, but he was ruled offside, though a replay showed that he might have been level with Yedlin.
Pulisic hit the post in the 56th minute with an effort from a tight angle, but he completed the scoreline in the 62nd minute. Moving the ball out of his own half, Pulisic found Yedlin out wide as the US tried to push forward. Yedlin played a pass back into the middle for Altidore, who one-timed a pass beyond the back line for Pulisic, who was on the run. Pulisic was able to set himself up for a shot from a tight angle, and did well to beat Williams at the near post, though the keeper might have done better to keep the shot out.
Trinidad pushed forward looking for a way back into the game, but the closest the came to a goal in the latter stages was when a cross from Joevin Jones was deflected across the face of goal, though instead of a corner kick, offside was given against Kenwyne Jones.
Instead, it was a pair of US substitutes who came closest to adding to the scoreline. In the 77th minute, Kellyn Acosta had an opportunity from a free kick, a situation he has scored from multiple times this year for FC Dallas. Acosta’s curling effort was on frame, but Williams did well to get over, and push the shot away.
And in the 84th minute, Wood, who came on for Altidore, got the ball at the top of the box with a shooting lane available. Wood beat Williams with his shot, but the Hamburg striker saw his effort hit the woodwork, instead of the back of the net.
The US finishes up this round of qualifiers when they take on Mexico at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on Sunday night. The US currently have 7 points from their first 5 qualifying games.