It seems that every single time he hits the field, Christian Pulisic does something to add to his growing legend. He did it again on Thursday night against Trinidad and Tobago, scoring twice in the second half as the United States topped the Soca Warriors 2-0 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
There weren’t a ton of chances in the opening quarter of the match. Trinidad, though, benefited some from a few lazy touches by the Americans. Their first real opportunity came in the 10th minute as Khaleem Hyland played a ball to Joevin Jones outside the box to the left of goal, but the chance ended up in the arms of Tim Howard. In the 15th minute, the U.S. looked to get on the board: Fabian Johnson played a nice ball to the feet of Clint Dempsey just outside the area, but the Texan just missed over the bar in what would have been a sensational record-tying strike. A couple of minutes later, Jozy Altidore misplayed a ball played in the box by Deandre Yedlin as his own opportunity to break the deadlock went wanting.
As time progressed, the U.S. began to gradually get more of the play, but the best chance of the half for either side came as Kenwyne Jones’ shot rang off the woodwork in a moment that could have seen it go 1-0 in favor of Trinidad. That seemed to awaken the Americans as they fired waves of chances the Trinidadians’ way, but even with that, the match remained 0-0 at the break. The U.S. seemed to not push the action at times when the opportunity was presented to them, but even so, their best chances came on crosses and when they did make those aggressive pushes toward the net
In the 52nd minute, though, the U.S. finally got the breakthrough they were looking for, courtesy of Pulisic. Deandre Yedlin played a perfect ball to the 18-year-old, who was there to slide it in for the game’s first goal.
It came very close to 1-1 as Trinidad’s equalizer was called back on an offside as the U.S. was lax in stopping the Soca Warriors’ attack off the draw. In the 62nd minute, though: guess who. Yedlin played a ball over to Altidore toward the middle of the field, who spotted Pulisic making a well-timed run toward goal.
It was just another night for Pulisic: he now sits at seven goals overall in just fifteen caps. He finished with a brace for the second time in his senior career.
Despite the result, it felt as if a little more should have transpired for the United States, who head to Mexico for Sunday’s big match at Azteca.
“Not an easy game. Trinidad had a good tactical plan and was well-prepared,” coach Bruce Arena said after the match. “On the other hand, we played a solid 90 minutes. (We) missed a couple of good opportunities but got a little better in the second half.”
Certainly, if not for Williams’ play, the result may have been more convincing, as he stopped seven of the nine shots he faced on target. On the other side, Tim Howard turned aside both shots on goal he saw on his way to a clean sheet.
“We were a little bit tight in the beginning,” said Howard. “That’s World Cup qualifying. (Trinidad) did a good job dropping off...and made it difficult on us. Toward the back end of the first half we were good. Second half, we were really good. In the end, we could have had more, but their goaltender (Jan-Michael Williams) was fantastic.”
Both coaches and players brought up the altitude as being a factor this evening.
“The altitude issue’s real. It’s going to be challenging on our players (in Mexico),” said Arena. “(As a result) we’ll need some new bodies on the field on Sunday. We’ve been training that way for the last week to ten days, and we have a plan in place.”
“We had some chances. It wasn’t that we played poorly,” Pulisic said. “It was just a matter of getting things going in the altitude against a tough team.”
Is the team in a good place heading into Azteca, where they’ve never won a World Cup qualifying match?
“I think so. I think if we just finish our chances, go down there, continue to be good on the ball and clean things up in the final third, we’ll be fine,” said Darlington Nagbe. “I’ll try to continue my game, and when I get moments to be more selfish (and shoot), I’ll do that.”
The scene shifts to Mexico City as the U.S. and El Tri battle for the 67th time. Despite never winning a qualifier at Azteca, the United States have gained a result in their last two matches there: a 1-0 win in a friendly in August 2012 (their first-ever victory there) and a scoreless draw in March 2013 in WCQ action.