BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. (Wednesday, September 10, 2008) -- The United States men put together an improved offensive effort tonight to defeat Trinidad & Tobago 3-0 in a CONCACAF World Cup Group 1 semifinal-round qualifier before a distressingly small Toyota Park crowd of 11,452.
The U.S. is now 3-0 with a maximum nine points and, with a five-point lead, almost assured of advancement to the final six-nation round robin with three matches to go. After Guatemala downed Cuba 1-0 in Havana, the Guatemalans and T&T are both 1-1-1.
"We've taken nine points from our first three matches in the group and that's what it's all about," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said.
In training yesterday, T&T was a loose group, confident it could use its pace to create problems for the U.S., but coach Francisco Maturana came out with a defense-oriented formation with only Major League Soccer veteran Cornell Glen on the front line with five midfielders.
Even with the crowded midfield, the U.S. had the Soca Warriors back on their heels almost from the start and, despite often playing 10 men behind the ball and crowding the midfield; Trinidad gave the U.S. a surprising amount of room to maneuver, putting little pressure on the ball in the middle.
"We did a good job early," Bradley said. "We used the whole field and we were able to find the seams in their defense and to attack down the right side. The result was a good win."
The Americans got on the scoreboard quickly in the ninth minute when Landon Donovan sent a beautiful free kick from the left side to fellow midfielder Michael Bradley, who ran free from his defender, redirected the ball out of the air into the right corner of the net with the outside of his raised right foot.
The space the U.S. was being allowed was on display again when Clint Dempsey ran through the T&T defense to run onto his midfield mate DaMarcus Beasley's through pass to make it 2-0 in the 18th minute. On a half dozen other occasions in the first half, long passes from the midfield beat the Soca Warriors defense, but the final touch failed the Americans.
The U.S. came out in the second half completely flat and T&T finally was able to apply some pressure in the opening minutes. Keon Daniel triggered a strong shot from distance when the U.S. midfield did not close him down. And the Trinidadians forced several corner kicks, but to no avail. In the 54th minute, U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard was beaten on a shot, but defender Steve Cherundolo saved a goal with a steady clearance from the right post.
Howard has five shutouts in his six qualifier appearances.
Despite T&T pushing the attack, the U.S. scored from a dead-ball situation three minutes later when Beasley's free kick from the right side was headed on by elevating defender Oguchi Onyewu. Lone striker Brian Ching was all alone at the far post and easily headed the ball home.
After both teams played difficult games Saturday, fatigue began to set in around the hour mark and the pace of the match slowed noticeably. The American substitutions allowed the U.S. to reassert control of the midfield and to run out the match.
Other than Cheurundolo's save, Howard was not severely tested as his defense remained strong, as it has been throughout qualifying so far with three clean sheets in this second round. With the U.S. attack more fluid, the Americans scored off two set plays with only Dempsey's tally coming from the run of play.
"This field was in much better condition than the fields we played on (in Guatemala and Cuba) and this allowed us to pass better and to hold the ball," Dempsey said.
Glen had another assessment "We gave them too much room," he said.
Trinidad & Tobago did not put its best 11 on the field. Maturana was without several key players, including veteran Dwight Yorke. The attacker was recalled by his English club team Sunderland, who claimed he was injured, an assertion disputed by T&T team management. Midfielder Chris Birchall of England's Coventry City took ill, Sunderland striker Kenwyne Jones is recovering from knee surgery, while defender Avery John was suspended tonight for yellow-card accumulation.
U.S. player ratings:
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6: Had little to do tonight with only a single save, though he had Cherundolo's goal-line stop to thank for the shutout. As usual, he controlled his area well.
Defender Heath Pearce - 5.5: A solid appearance. Got into the attack often and made few mistakes on defense.
Defender Steve Cherundolo - 6: Well-positioned at a post to save a goal. Dueled with T&T's Carlos Edwards all night and got the better of him consistently. Did not deserve the yellow card he was given in an otherwise solid performance.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 7: He completely controlled the middle and set up the third U.S. goal in a dominating performance.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6.5: Ranged from side to side all night helping out as the outside defenders pushed forward.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan -5: He had some very good moments, but his passing was off for most of the evening. At one point he made five bad passes in a row. To his credit, he was active over the full 90 minutes.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: Had a strong first half with a nice goal and some good work both offensively and defensively, deep in the midfield. Seemed to tire noticeably in the second half and was spent by the time he came out.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 7.5: Stayed in the middle of the field for the entire 90 minutes and seemingly was everywhere. He contributed more tonight than in some games in which he scored.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 6.5: After a couple of seasons in Scotland, Beasley is starting to show he can play defense. On a number of occasions, he tracked back to make key defensive stops in the midfield. Offensively, he came close several times but was just a bit off in his finishing.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 6: He has learned in England to pick his spots. He did a lot of unsung defensive work but, as he does from time to time, contributed a brilliant goal, combining with Beasley.
Forward Brian Ching - 5: Played hard and got a goal, but was not able to capitalize on several very good chances when he could not settle the ball under pressure.
Midfielder Ricardo Clark (67th minute for Bradley) - 5.5: His fresh legs in the middle were a big help over the closing 20-plus minutes as he moved from side to side to disrupt T&T momentum.
Forward Eddie Johnson (67th minute for Ching) - 5: Another tantalizing appearance that held so much promise, but delivered little.
Midfielder Eddie Lewis (76th minute for Dempsey) - 5.5: Played well after replacing Dempsey, who felt a hamstring twinge.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Landon Donovan.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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