COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — Shot after shot from the United States homed in on the Trinidad and Tobago net. One clipped the crossbar. Some sailed just wide or high. Others — several others — struck the goalkeeper.
In the first half of a World Cup qualifying match the Americans had acknowledged that they needed to win, they did what they had hoped to do, by controlling possession and generating consistent opportunities, except for a very important detail: None of their attempts were actually crossing the threshold.
Relief came, twice, from the right foot of Christian Pulisic, whose two second-half goals in a 2-0 victory Thursday night at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park rescued the Americans from calamity. The longer the match went scoreless, the more anxiety tinged their campaign.
In this grueling stretch of two games in four days, the United States counted on collecting 3 points against Trinidad and Tobago, the only nation trailing it in Concacaf’s six-team field, before heading to Mexico for a clash on Sunday night. A draw Thursday would have only amplified the importance of their game at Estadio Azteca, where the United States has never won a qualifier.
Pulisic, the 18-year-old prodigy, would not let it happen. He benefited from outstanding combination play in the 53rd minute, after a give-and-go between Darlington Nagbe and Clint Dempsey. Nagbe played the ball back to DeAndre Yedlin along the right edge of the box, and his low centering cross connected with Pulisic, who slotted it past Jan-Michael Williams.
Nine minutes later, just after Dempsey was substituted, Jozy Altidore fed Pulisic, who was streaking down the right flank. One on one with Williams, Pulisic hesitated before curling a shot just inside the near post.
“He’s having fun,” Coach Bruce Arena said of Pulisic. “I just think he’s a natural for the game.”
The goals were Pulisic’s sixth and seventh for the national team, and all five of his goals in World Cup qualifiers have come in the second half.
Midway through the 10-match tournament, the Americans, with 7 points, moved into third place, jumping past Panama, which tied Costa Rica, 0-0, on Thursday, while Mexico stayed firmly atop the group with 3-0 win over Honduras. The top three teams advance to the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and a fourth can progress through a playoff.
The Americans lacked continuity in the opening minutes, struggling to generate midfield pressure, before producing chance after chance. The United States forced Williams to make five saves before halftime, none better than a late sequence in which he denied Jorge Villafana from distance and then steered Altidore’s header away from danger.
The Soca Warriors have not scored in a World Cup qualifier on American soil since 1989, though they came close, first on a low drive by Khaleem Hyland in the 28th that skipped wide, and then on a Kenwyne Jones header that blasted off the crossbar.
The tougher match for the United States — the one played at lung-searing altitude in an unforgiving venue in Mexico — remains, though this proved a satisfying warm-up.
“Because we won tonight, I think we can go there a little more relaxed,” Arena said.
It was a game the Americans should have won. And because of Pulisic, they did.
Continue reading the main story