The United States men's national team officially clinched a spot in the Hexagonal round Tuesday night with a dominant 4-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago. Here are three things we learned:
Sacha Kljestan had been on the outside looking in for quite a long time. Prior to this week, he had last appeared in a game for the USMNT over 2.5 years ago. His previous non-friendly appearance was nearly 3 years prior. And his last goal? That came over 6.5 years ago in a January 2010 friendly vs. El Salvador. All of that changed this week when he was finally rewarded for his outstanding play in MLS with a call-up for this week's World Cup Qualifying matches.
After an impressively productive substitute appearance on Friday in St. Vincent (1 goal, 2 assists), Kljestan earned a somewhat surprising start vs. Trinidad & Tobago. Once again, Kljestan would reward Jurgen Klinsmann for putting him on the field. His 44th minute goal was opportunistic, pouncing on a blocked clearance to give the U.S. a 1-0 halftime lead. In the second half, Kljestan provided a more consistent spark, playing a key role in two more U.S. goals to put the game on ice.
Kljestan needed to impress this week and take advantage of this opportunity, knowing it might be his last shot with Jurgen Klinsmann. He did that and then some. Beyond the stat line of 2 goals and 2 assists, Kljestan showed an ability to have a consistent creative influence on the game. He also developed a quick and effective partnership particularly with Christian Pulisic, which won't go unnoticed. It's also noteworthy that he played substantial minutes, while Darlington Nagbe did not get off the bench in either game.
This won't be the last we see of Sacha Kljestan.
The kids can play. Who knew?
Earlier in the week, Jurgen Klinsmann hinted that if the U.S. got the results it needed on Friday, that the younger players on the roster would get opportunities vs. Trinidad & Tobago. With a spot in the Hex not quite locked up, most of those opportunities would come in the second half once the result was in hand. The obvious exception being still-17-year-old Christian Pulisic, who earned his first career USMNT start. Pulisic was, of course, brilliant as usual, and easily the best American player on the field on the night.
21-year-old Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris got an extended 30 minute substitute shift and put in one of his better performances in recent memory. Most notable was a clever backheel to himself that shed two defenders and led to the fourth U.S. goal in the 72nd minute.
That goal was scored by 21-year-old Tijuana winger Paul Arriola, who entered in the 66th minute. Making just his second senior team appearance, Arriola got on the scoresheet, just as he did in his May debut vs. Puerto Rico. He once again showcased his smart off-ball movement and was in perfect position to put home the rebound off of Christian Pulisic's shot.
Klinsmann's third and final substitute was 23-year-old midfielder Caleb Stanko, who earned his first senior team cap when he replaced Sacha Kljestan in the 73rd minute. Rewarded for earning a starting role after a move to FC Vaduz of the Swiss Super League, Stanko did well with his limited minutes with crisp passes and smart defensive positioning.
If you're an advocate of a youth movement with the USMNT, you had to like what you saw Tuesday night.
Jozy's brace: another day at the office
Jozy Altidore certainly has his share of detractors among the USMNT fan base. He's battled injuries at very inopportune times. He's had two unsuccessful stints in the Premier League. He's faced high expectations that would be tough for anyone to live up to.
But here's what we know for certain. Jozy Altidore scores goals for the USMNT. Tons of them. And he keeps doing it. Just when you think he might be slipping down the forward depth chart, he bounces back with a week like this.
On Friday night, we saw Jozy pass Eric Wynalda for third on the all-time USMNT goal scoring list. On Tuesday night, another milestone was reached, when he passed Clint Dempsey for most career goals in World Cup Qualifying. He'd later extend that mark, bringing his total to 16.
It's easy to forget that Jozy Altidore is still just 26 years old. Some might think of him as an old guard player. After all, he's been around a while, having made his senior team debut nearly a decade ago at age 17. But as Altidore keeps reminding us, he's going to be around a while longer as well. Probably a long while longer. He's a goal scorer, and when goal scorers do their job, they stay in the starting lineup. With 3 goals in 2 important qualifiers this week, Jozy did his job.