The U.S. men's national team won its CONCACAF World Cup qualifying semifinal round group Tuesday night, comfortably beating Trinidad and Tobago 4-0 in Jacksonville, Florida to cement its place in the final round before Russia 2018.
Jozy Altidore scored twice, Sacha Kljestan scored again and Paul Arriola added a goal off the bench for the U.S., while 17-year-old Christian Pulisic impressed in his first start for the national team.
Pulisic was among six changes to the U.S. starting lineup, becoming the youngest U.S. player to ever start a World Cup qualifier, and he almost scored twice in the opening half. He was denied by goalkeeper Marvin Phillip with a 20-yard blast early on, and just after the half-hour mark, he was somehow denied by both posts.
Altidore did well to muscle off a defender to keep a play alive and cross through the box, and Pulisic met it with his trailing run. His first-timed effort pinged off both posts–a la Sporting Kansas City's penalty kick in the MLS playoffs vs. the Portland Timbers last fall–and kept the match scoreless.
Kljestan, who like Pulisic was rewarded for his impact off the bench vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines with a start, opened the scoring in the 44th minute. After a well-worked U.S. combination, Trinidad and Tobago tried to clear, only for Kljestan to come up with a block in the box. The ball fell right to Kljestan's feet, and he poked it home for his second goal in as many games.
With Trinidad and Tobago threatening in the second half, the U.S. got an important insurance goal from Altidore. Fabian Johnson fed him from the left, and Altidore displayed a slick couple of touches to create space before slipping a low shot inside the near post to make it 2-0 in the 60th minute. With the goal, Altidore became the USA's all-time leading scorer in World Cup qualifying, breaking a tie with Clint Dempsey and netting his 15th goal on the stage.
Altidore scored his second (and 16th career goal in World Cup qualifying) not even three minutes later. Pulisic worked a smooth give-and-go on the left side and crossed to the far post, where a sliding Altidore touched it home to make it 3-0.
Arriola came off the bench to extend the lead to 4-0, following up a rebound with a simple left-footed finish for his second career U.S. goal.
Winning the group has its advantages for the U.S., which will open the CONCACAF hexagonal at home against Mexico on Nov. 11 and have alternating home-away qualifiers in each of the five international fixture windows over the next year. SI's Grant Wahl reports that the opener against Mexico will indeed be in Columbus, where the U.S. has beaten Mexico in World Cup qualifying by 2-0 scorelines in each of the last four World Cup qualifying cycles.
Here were the rosters for the match:
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Ethan Horvath (Molde FC), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)
DEFENDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana)
MIDFIELDERS: Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders FC), Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV)
TRINIDAD AND TOBAGO
GOALKEEPERS: Adrian Foncette (Police F.C.), Marvin Phillip (Morvant Caledonia United), Greg Ranjitsingh (Louisville City)
DEFENDERS: Radanfah Abu Bakr (Sillamae Kalev), Daneil Cyrus (W Connection), Aubrey David (FC Dallas), Joevin Jones (Seattle Sounders FC), Yohance Marshall (Morcielagos), Carlyle Mitchell (Seoul E-Land), Mekeil Williams (Colorado Rapids)
MIDFIELDERS: John Bostock (Lens), Andre Boucaud (Dagenham & Redbridge), Cordell Cato (San Jose Earthquakes), Kevan George (Jacksonville Armada FC), Neveal Hackshaw (Charleston Battery), Hughtun Hector (W Connection), Khaleem Hyland (Westerlo), Kevin Molino (Orlando City), Jomal Williams (Murcielagos)
FORWARDS: Trevin Caesar (Orange County Blues), Levi Garcia (AZ Alkmaar), Kenwyne Jones (Central F.C.), Shahdon Winchester (Murcielagos)