U.S. men rout T&T to win Group 3 and move on to qualifying finals.
By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, September 6, 2016) – The United States men took a lead late in the first half and thrilled its fans after intermission, winning its CONCACAF semifinal Group 3 by drubbing Trinidad and Tobago 4-0 before 19,150 at Everbank Field in Jacksonville, Fla. Tonight.
The U.S. finished 4-1-1 with 13 points to overtake T&T at 3-1-2 with 11 points. At the same time, Guatemala (3-2-1, 10 points) was eliminated despite its 9-3 pasting of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (0-6-0, 0).
The Americans will open the six-nation, 10-game final round hexagonal by hosting arch-rival Mexico November 11, probably in Columbus, Ohio. A visit to Costa Rica should follow four days later.
Over the first 30 minutes, T&T, with more size than the Americans, threw its weight around and kept the U.S. at bay. The U.S. gradually began to get the better of the play. While it looked like the match would remain scoreless at intermission, opportunistic midfielder Sacha Kljestan changed that. He took control of Carlyle Mitchell’s dreadful defensive clearance and placed his shot inside the right post from 12 yards out for a 1-0 advantage in the 44th minute.
After a long layoff from the U.S. national team, Kljestan scored for a second straight qualifier after not being called up to the senior squad in more than two years,
With midfielder Christian Pulisic and striker Jozy Altidore the most menacing, the Americans dominated action in the second half and the match was put out of reach when Altidore scored twice in a three-minute span.
In the 59th minute, defender Fabian Johnson fed Altidore, who controlled before firing it past goalkeeper Marvin Phillip into the lower left side of the net.
In the 63rd minute, Kljestan and Pulisic played a give-and-go along the left touchline. Pulisic ran unopposed toward the left post and eased it across to, Altidore who pushed his shot into unguarded net for a 3-0 margin.
Reserve midfielder Paul Arriola finished the scoring in the 71st minute, five minutes after entering the match. It looked like Pulisic was going to score, but his shot was saved. The rebound went to Arriola, who scored in his third cap for a 4-0 lead..
U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann made six changes from the side that faced St. Vincent on Friday. As previously announced, Tim Howard started in goal, the sixth time he has faced Trinidad. Steve Birnbaum and Omar Gonzalez were inserted into central defense with backs DeAndre Yedlin suspended and Matt Besler sent home to be with his new daughter, born Friday.
Midfielder Michael Bradley returned from suspension, while Kljestan and Pulisic getting starts after their fine showing against St. Vincent.
If there was a surprise, it was the ease of the Americans’ victory. If there was any complaint, it was the U.S. should have had two or three more goals.
Pulisic went the full 90 minutes in his first U.S. start and was the dominant player, assisting on two goals. He came close to scoring himself, including a shot that hit the left post and then right post before spinning out.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper – Tim Howard 6.5: He made three outstanding saves without allowing a rebound. His best came when he tipped over the crossbar a dipping shot from Joevin Jones, followed by stiffing Shahdon Winchester’s point-blank attempt in stoppage time. Otherwise, he moved his defense around with authority and enjoyed a solid night.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 6: He had a strong two-way match, not allowing much to come down his side. Still, he was able to go forward and push the ball offensively.
Defender Omar Gonzalez - 6.5: He battled Kenwyne Jones to a standstill, which shut off most of T&T’s attack. He was both strong in the air and physical on the ground.
Defender Steve Birnbaum - 5.5: Had a few problems, especially with positioning which allowed Joevin Jones and Khaleem Hyland to get off shots. He had some difficulty with the pace and the physicality. He is still an inexperienced player at this level and is still learning.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 6.5: He might not like playing defense as opposed to the attacking midfield, but he showed how good he is at times in the back. On several occasions, blocked shots or passes that might have been trouble, but then pushed forward and worked well with Christian Pulisic in the offensive end.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya - 5.5: He worked hard and made some key defensive stops. He did not provide much to the attack, but his defensive work was needed. He seemed to tire and looked ready to come out in the 66th minute.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: He disappeared for large portions of the match, but he was influential early and did strong work defensively in that first half hour, and then over the final 20 minutes.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan- 6: He scored his second goal in two matches after his long absence from the national team. He worked hard in a two-way manner. He did everything that could have been asked of him..
Midfielder Christian Pulisic - 7: He did not score, but he was still the most influential U.S. player for most of the night. His work rate was impressive as was his ability to often be in just the right place both offensively and defensively. It will be interesting to see if he remains as a starter or as the first off the bench during the final round of qualifying.
Forward Jozy Altidore-– 7.5: He did a lot of the dirty work on top during the first half. He stood up well to the physical play of Trinidad. In the second half, when he drifted onto the left flank, he broke the match open with a pair of goals. He set up others with good passes and had his own opportunities for a hat trick. The Americans needed such an effort from him.
Forward Bobby Wood - 5: He did not seem to have it. He was closely marked and could not seem to break free.
Forward Jordan Morris (60th minute for Wood) - 5.5: He made several good passes that caused trouble. Late in the game, he drifted back to help make defensive stops. He never got free to come close to goal.
Midfielder Paul Arriola (66th minute for Bedoya) - 6.5: In his second international appearance, he notched his two goal. He brought new life to the offense, making several good passes and runs, finding net five minutes after entering. Based on this appearance, it is likely he will be seen again in the Red, White and Blue.
Midfielder Caleb Stanko (72nd minute for Kljestan) - 5: He came in to play defense, but seemed to be less than equipped for the pace. Several times, he got himself in good positions, but then could not make a play in his U.S. debut.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Jozy Altidore.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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