Led by a brace from Jozy Altidore and a breakout performance by 17 year old Christian Pulisic the U.S. MNT dispatched Trinidad and Tobago Tuesday night in Jacksonville, Florida by a 4-0 score to advance to the final round of World Cup Qualifiers (The Hex).
Winning the group means that the Americans will host Mexico on November 11 at a cold weather site to be determined. But before we look ahead let’s look at 4 Things from this impressive win.
1) The Pulisic Hype Train has left the station.
Jurgen Klinsmann has been saying for some time now that he would have to bring the young Pennsylvanian along at the correct pace, and even if many of us wanted more Pulisic during June’s Copa America, it was understandable that the U.S. coach and Technical Director was reluctant to rush the youngster.
But Tuesday’s mature, dominant performance makes it clear that the kid has to play, and he has to start. After the match Klinsmann called Pulisic’s game “wonderful.”
Former U.S. MNT striker Brian McBride said on television that Pulisic “changes games,” adding that he is “very, very excited,” about the soon to be 18 year old.
It must all be very heady stuff for such a young player but Pulisic has come so far, so fast, and all without betraying any nerves or exhibiting any ego.
Next up is Mexico in a match that really means something and the pressure seems to be on Klinsmann to start Pulisic, rather than on Pulisic, who looks more than ready to step into what would be the biggest international match of his young career.
2) Jozy is Back – and Better than Ever?
When Altidore injured his hamstring for the umpteenth time forcing him to miss the Copa America this summer, Bobby Wood stepped in very nicely and plenty of U.S. Soccer watchers began to turn the page on the Jozy era.
Remember that a hamstring injury had ended Altidore’s 2014 World Cup minutes into the first U.S. match and it was beginning to look as if the Toronto striker would fade into the national team sunset.
But with Altidore healthy now and banging home goals in MLS and adding three goals from these just completed pair of U.S. matches, it looks like Jozy is back.
Always a lightning rod for criticism, mostly about his goalscoring record, Altidore’s brace versus T&T nevertheless moved him past Clint Dempsey, and everyone else, to the top of the U.S. MNT World Cup Qualifier goals list.
Altidore is also third on the all time American men’s goal chart behind Landon Donovan (57) and Clint Dempsey (52). At just 26 years of age it is not out of the question that Altidore could one day top that list, if he can stay healthy.
3) Is Sascha The Answer?
The question being – how to fix the U.S. midfield. After being exiled from the national team for years the New York Red Bulls midfielder was only added to the U.S. roster when Jermaine Jones was unable to recover in time from a preexisting injury.
The MLS leader in assists with 15 impressed off of the bench on Friday against an admittedly weak St. Vincent and the Grenadines side, still a goal and two assists is nothing to sneeze at.
Kljestan added another goal versus a much tougher opponent when he opened the U.S. account Tuesday night versus Trinidad and Tobago and perhaps more importantly Kljestan seems to have developed an instant rapport with rising star Christian Pulisic.
Kljestan set up both of Pulisic’s goals against St. V&G also scoring via an assist from Pulisic. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones have often seemed to be an uncomfortable fit in the U.S midfield and while it still seems a stretch to suggest that Klinsmann would bench Jones in favor of Kljestan with Mexico on deck, the U.S supremo did say this Tuesday night:
“I think the way Sacha now plays at the New York Red Bulls, this is a role that he really is good at and he brought himself back into this roster.”
“So (I need to) make sure we give him the opportunity to play the No. 10 role. Automatically, that means Michael (Bradley) is more of the No. 6 in this game. Whether we need him as a No. 8 or a No. 10, it’s not a problem.”
4) Time for Tim?
After rotating keepers Klinsmann named Brad Guzan as his number one for the Copa America, a policy he has reinstituted these past two World Cup Qualifiers.
At the time that Klinsmann anointed Guzan, Howard was coming off a down year at Everton and was headed to Colorado. Guzan had endured a rough season at relegated Aston Villa but had ended the season as the Villians number one.
Now Howard is playing well, and playing regularly with the Rapids. Guzan has been starting with his new Premier League club Middlesbrough but his play has not been entirely convincing and he could face a challenge to maintain his number one status at Boro.
It may mean something too that Howard started against the better side, T&T, in this recent two game set. Guzan also had a moment or two of indecision versus the Vincy Heat while Howard look very steady against the Soca Warriors.
Is Howard on course to reclaim his job? It will depend on Guzan’s performance with Middlesbrough but it is not difficult to imagine Klinsmann turning to Howard versus Mexico in November.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 3 4
TRI 0 0 0
USA – Sacha Kljestan 44th minute
USA – Jozy Altidore (Fabian Johnson) 59
USA – Jozy Altidore (Christian Pulisic) 62
USA – Paul Arriola 71
USA: 12-Tim Howard; 20-Geoff Cameron, 21-Steve Birnbaum, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 23-Fabian Johnson; 11-Alejandro Bedoya (14-Paul Arriola, 66), 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 16-Sacha Kljestan (13-Caleb Stanko, 72), 10-Christian Pulisic; 7-Bobby Wood (8-Jordan Morris, 60), 17-Jozy Altidore
Subs not used: 1-Brad Guzan, 22-Ethan Horvath, 2-Kellyn Acosta, 5-Michael Orozco, 6-Darlington Nagbe, 9-Rubio Rubin, 15-Kyle Beckerman, 18-Chris Wondolowski, 19-Graham Zusi
Head Coach: Jurgen Klinsmann
TRI : 1-Marvin Phillip; 2-Aubrey David, 12-Carlyle Mitchell, 6-Radanfah Abu Bakr, 17-Mekeil Williams; 3-Joevin Jones, 8-Khaleem Hyland, ,10-Kevin Molino, 14-Andre Boucaud (19-Kevan George, 76), 16-Levi Garcia (23-Jomal Williams, 57); 9-Kenwyne Jones (capt.) (11-Shahdon Winchester, 69)
Subs not used: 21-Adrian Foncette, 22-Greg Ranjitsingh, 5-Daneil Cyrus, 7-Hughtun Hector, 13-Cordell Cato, 15-Neveal Hackshaw, 18-Yohance Marshall, 20-Trevin Caesar
Head Coach: Stephen Hart
Stats Summary: USA / TRI
Shots: 17 / 14
Shots on Goal: 10 / 5
Saves: 5 / 6
Corner Kicks: 3 / 2
Fouls: 8 / 11
Offside: 4 / 1
TRI – Mekeil Williams (caution) 25th minute
TRI – Carlyle Mitchell (caution) 52
TRI – Jomal Williams (caution) 62