Pulisic scores two quick goals to lead Americans past T&T 2-0 in CONCACAF qualifying.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, June 8, 2017) -- The United States men did little more than it had to defeat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 in a CONCACAF World Cup final-round qualifier in front of a sellout crowd of 19,188 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo., tonight.
The U.S. was clearly looking past the weakest team in the six-nation competition and forward to its Sunday night clash against Mexico in Mexico City and needed a little luck,and a pair of second half goals from young Christian Pulisic to prevail.
The American’s 8:30 p.m. (ET) match with Mexico Sunday will be broadcast by Fox Sports 1.
Midway through the 10 rounds of the hexagonal, Mexico (4-0-1, 13 points) is in first, followed by Costa Rica (2-1-2, 8), the U.S. (2-2-1, 7), Panama (1-1-3, 5), Honduras (1-3-1, 4) and Trinidad and Tobago (1-4-0, 3).
In tonight’s other matches, Mexico blanked Honduras 3-0 while Costa Rica and Panama drew 0-0.
The only way to describe the U.S. play in the first 45 minutes was lackluster. Kenwyne Jones beat U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard to a cross and slammed a header off the crossbar, denying T&T an early lead. When T&T retreated into a shell defensively, the Americans could do little to pierce its defense.
The second half was considerably better for the U.S., which visibly picked up the pace, resulting in two goals 10 minutes apart from Pulisic. Both goals were the result of combination passing.
In the 54th minute, Darlington Nagbe stepped through T&T’s midfield with on the dribble. He passed to Clint Dempsey at the top of the box and got a return pass he touched to DeAndre Yedlin. Yedlin hit a low cross into the center of the box where it was met by a sliding Pulisic for a 1-0 advantage.
Ten minutes later, it was Pulisic who started play in back, feeding Yedlin, who fed Jozy Altidore. The big striker again showed his worth by holding and then picking out a hard charging Pulisic on the right side of the box. He collected Altidore’s perfect pass and when keeper Jan-Michael Williams came out to cut down the angle, Pulisic finished cleanly to the near post.
In between the two U.S. goals, T&T almost got one back. Nathan Smith beat Howard, but was nullified by the offside call.
“I think we were frustrated. I think we could have played a little better. We had some lapses.” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. “We needed to play with more urgency in the final third. We needed to pass better and we needed to defend out wide.”
It will be interesting to see Arena’s lineup and strategy for Sunday’s meeting with Mexico at hulking Azteca Stadium, where the Americans have never won a qualifier
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard – 5.5: Like many of his teammates, this was not his best day. He was sharp at times and made two quality saves, by he was beaten to the ball by Jones, whose header crashed off the crossbar and he was also beaten on a goal. Ruled offside. In the end, he maintained a clean sheet.
Defender DeAndre Yedlin - 6: He had a great game offensively, somewhat less so defensively. His great far-post ball set up first goal and his excellent pass to Jozy Altidore led to the second. He was OK defensively in the first half, but had problems with Joevin Jones in the second half.
Defender John Brooks - 5.5: He had an on-again, off-again night. He made some good blocks, and won some head balls but completely lost Jones on the first-half header and was slow at times with pacey T&T forwards.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 6: He was a stalwart in the middle all night, involved in a physical game and more than holding his own. The only problem was a number of his outlet passes did not reach their destination.
Defender Jorge Villafaña - 6.5: He was another defender who was an offensive presence, especially in the first half. He had some problems with pace of T&T strikers and in the second half looked like the altitude may have gotten to him.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: He was especially guilty of a slow pace in the first half. He stepped up his game in the second, making a steal that eventually led to first American goal. He continues to be less than always effective linking the back line to the forwards.
Midfielder Fabian Johnson - 5: He was another player who had a slow first half and improved after intermission. His passing was off, but at times he made some strong plays. He looked like he was gassed by the time he was lifted in the 74th minute.
Midfielder Darlington Nagbe - 7: After a terrific year in England, he was expected to finally begin to live up to his promise with the national team. He showed flashes of being ready to do that. For stretches, he was the best American and became the main link from the back to the forwards. Hopefully, this was an exhibit of what can be expected in the future.
Midfielder Christian Pulisic - 7: He has taken over Landon Donovan’s role as the go-to guy when the U.S. needs a goal, netting both tonight. He now has five goals in eight World Cup qualifying games. If he gets better as he matures, he will be something to behold.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 6.5: He did not score, but otherwise he had a very strong game. He matched the physical play he faced and was especially effective in the second half when he saw the ball more often. His pass to Pulisic for the first goal was spot on.
Forward Clint Dempsey - 5.5: Not a pleasurable night for the striker. With one goal to go to tie Donovan’s all time U.S. qualifying scoring record, this could have been his night, but it didn’t happen. He made some fine plays but, as usual of late, was inconsistent. He was visibly unhappy when lifted early in the 61st minute in favor of a defensive midfielder and to rest for Sunday. He glared at Arena and refused to shake hands.
Midfielder Kellyn Acosta (61st minute for Dempsey) - 6.5: Played his role almost perfectly, covering all kinds of ground in the middle, making defensive stops. He also triggered a long-range shot that almost made it into a top corner.
Midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (74th minute for Johmson) - 5.5: He came in and played some tough defense, drawing a yellow card for a clattering tackle that was needed. Still, he also assisted on a goal. A good short showing.
Forward Bobby Wood (83rd minute for Altidore) - 6.5: He likely was held out of a starting role to be rested for Sunday. He did trigger one hard shot that hit the post.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Christian Pulisic.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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