U.S. on the verge of advancing to qualifying finals after romping over St. Vincent.
By Robert Wagman
(Friday, September 2, 2016) -- The United States men stand on the verge of advancing to the final round of CONCACAF World Cup 2018 qualifying after an easy 6-0 victory over outclassed, but game host St. Vincent and the Grenadines this afternoon before well less than a full house at the 18,000-capacity Arnos Vale Stadium in Kingstown.
In the closing round of Group 3, the U.S. (3-1-1, 10 points) will advance with a win or draw over Trinidad and Tobago (3-1-2, 11) at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. The Americans, who will win the group with a victory and almost certainly move on to the final hexagonal even with a loss in the 8:15 p.m. (ET) match, televised by Fox Sports 1 and Spanish-language UniMás.
Guatemala (3-2-1, 7) should beat pointless visitor St. Vincent and the Grenadines (0-5-0, 0) Tuesday and, coupled with a U.S. loss, both nations would have 10 points, tying for the second and last finals qualifying spot. But the first tiebreaker is goal differential and the Americans are plus-13 to Guatemala’s plus-1.
It took the U.S. 28 minutes to settle in and for forward Bobby Wood to score for a 1-0 lead. Four minutes later, defender Matt Besler netted his first international goal to make it 2-0. Just before halftime, striker Jozy Altidore made it 3-0, converting a penalty kick after Wood was taken down in the box.
In the second half, reserve midfielder Christian Pulisic became the youngest American to score in World Cup qualifying with a 71st-minute strike goal. Another substitute midfielder, Sacha Kljestan, playing his first national-team game in a year, made it 5-0 seven minutes later. Pulisic added his second of the day in stoppage time.
Meanwhile, St. Vincent managed onto a single shot on goal, nicely saved by goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann had to juggle his lineup considerably because of players missing from illness or suspension.
Missing were Clint Dempsey (irregular heart condition), Michael Bradley (yellow-cards accumulation), Jermaine Jones (knee), Gyasi Zardes (foot), and John Brooks (back). Because of the absences, Klinsmann moved Fabian Johnson into the midfield and replaced him in back with Kellyn Acosta.
In the center of the backline, Matt Besler replaced Brooks. In the midfield, Kyle Beckerman and Graham Zusi started behind forward Altidore and Wood.
Klinsmann made second-half changes for Altidore, Johnson and Alejandro Bedoya, all of whom looked to be wilting in the heat and humidity, to add some fresh legs and to save the starters for Tuesday. Looking at who scored for him, his strategy worked almost perfectly.
The U.S. entered today in second place in the Group C standings three points behind Trinidad and one point ahead of Guatemala. Had T&T defeated Guatemala both the U.S. and T&T would have advanced to the final round of qualifying. But a late goal by Guatemala lifted them into a 2-2 draw in Trinidad, and means that the U.S. needs a result when it hosts T&T on Tuesday in Jacksonville (8 p.m. ET FS1 and UniMas).
If the U.S. wins on Tuesday, it will win the Group and advance. If it draws with T&T the U.S. also advances. If, however, it loses to Trinidad, and Guatemala defeats St Vincent, the U.S. would end up tied with Guatemala for second place, but it holds a huge goal differential lead (+13 to +1) and likely would advance.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 5.5: He had almost a comically easy night, facing only a single shot which he handled well.
Defender Kellyn Acosta -5.5: In only his third international team appearance, he showed well, standing up to pressure down his wing. He did not win every battle, but won most.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 6.5: He was a rock in the center of the U.S. defense. He made several one-on-one tackles and won almost every high ball coming into the penalty area.
Defender Matt Besler - 6: He subbed very well for Brooks with a strong defensive effort and he scored his first goal on the same day his first child was born.
Defender DeAndre Yedlin - 5.5: He was strong for most of the match, but had some troubles early in the second half. He pushed forward to cause problems with passes and physical play, but his silly foul and yellow card will keep him out of Tuesday’s match against Trinidad and Tobago.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 6: He has really settled into his role in the midfield. He operated as a midfield link and he made several good defensive stops.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - 5.5: In a solid game, he had problems early in the second half and looked to be affected by the heat and humidity. He held up until the end and continued to give a good accounting for himself.
Midfielder Fabian Johnson - 6: He is naturally more a midfielder than a defender. His terrific early cross should have been converted by Bobby Wood, but later Wood put away his cross for the first goal. He seemed most affected by the heat and was ready to come out by the 66th minute.
Midfielder Graham Zusi - 5.5: He had one of those up-and-down matches. On the positive side, he was strong up until the end. He took most of the free kicks and corner kicks decently. He might have done better offensively.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 6.5: Had a strong return to the lineup after hamstring problems. He assisted nicely on the opening goal, converted a penalty kick emphatically and actually drifted back to help on defense.
Forward Bobby Wood - 6: His finishing was not perfect or he could have scored in the second minute, but he hit a beautiful shot to open the scoring. He drew the penalty that Altidore converted, but was less effective in the second half and looked to be bothered by the heat.
Midfielder Christian Pulisic (66th minute for Johnson) - 7.5: He Was a terror, coming in with fresh legs when many on the opposite side were losing theirs. At 17, he became the youngest to ever score in a qualifier and then added a second tally late. He is making a strong argument for a starting role.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan (66th minute for Bedoya) - 6.5: After a long absence from international competition and against a weak opponent that was tiring, he was terrific. He scored a goal and assisted twice. He made the case he belongs on the squad.
Forward Jordan Morris (85th minute for Altidore) – no rating: A short appearance in which he had little effect.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Christian Pulisic.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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