Tuesday night, the US Men’s National Team kicked off their final group match of World Cup Qualification. Going into the fixture, the U.S. were second the group and were all but guaranteed a spot in the Hex, barring a miraculous scoreline in the St. Vincent and Guatemala game. Standing in their way of a first place finish was Trinidad & Tobago who sat just above them and who had already secured their place in the next round. Would Jürgen Klinsmann close out the group with a win, or could T&T throw some added drama into the mix?
After a hesitant start to the match that saw both sides struggle to assert their playing style, the United States started to come out of their shell around the half hour mark. Christian Pulisic, who was the youngest player to start for the U.S. in a World Cup Qualifier, very nearly put the Stars and Stripes ahead in the 31st minute, but his close-range shot rang off the woodwork.
The two sides exchanged chances for the final 15 minutes of the half, but it was the hosts that finally found the back of the net in the 44th minute. A delayed clearance from T&T gave Sacha Kljestan time to step in front of the defender to snag the ball. It wasn’t the prettiest goal, but the New York Red Bulls’ midfielder immediately toe poked a shot past Marvin Phillip to give the U.S. a one-goal lead going into the break.
In the second half, Klinsmann’s squad came out flying. It took less than 15 minutes for them to double their lead. A determined run from Fabian Johnson up the left wing ended with the Bundesliga defender slotting in Jozy Altidore at the top of the box. Altidore, who struggled in the first half, made quick work of his defender and then passed the ball into the side netting. 2-0 U.S.
Four minutes later, Altidore found himself on the scoresheet again. A well-worked give-and-go between Pulisic and Kljestan created some space for the former on the left wing. The 17-year-old sent in an inch-perfect cross through the penalty area to Altidore at the back post and the striker easily tapped home to seal the match in the 63rd minute.
The romp wasn’t over quite yet as the U.S. found one more goal in the 71st minute. After Pulisic’s initial shot was batted away by Phillip, Paul Arriola was in the right position to slot home the rebound to score his second international goal in as many games, and wrap up a dominant 4-0 victory for the Stars and Stripes.
The win moved the United States to the top spot in the group, two points ahead of Trinidad & Tobago, and secured their spot in CONCACAF’s Hexagonal round on the way to Russia 2018. We won’t see the Stars and Stripes play another competitive match until they host Mexico on November 11th. El Tri will surely offer Klinsmann his toughest test of qualifying, but the promise displayed during this pair of fixtures should give fans confidence that their team has the quality and composure to compete with their rivals south of the border.