As several U.S. players mobbed Michael Bradley after he flicked in Landon Donovan's free kick to provide a 1-0 lead against Trinidad & Tobago Wednesday, longtime Donovan pal DaMarcus Beasley ran over to Donovan instead. Donovan barely grinned while acknowledging his friend and colleague of nearly a decade at all age levels of competitive play. Beasley wanted to frolic, but Donovan stayed focused, as did most of the Americans for most of this match.
Despite winning its first two semifinal-round qualifiers in Guatemala City and Havana by 1-0 scores, the USA hadn't earned little praise for the means by which it acquired the six points. Back on home turf, backed by a noisy but small (11,452) crowd, and facing a young, nervous team, the U.S. took command early and seldom relinquished it.
There were wavering moments during the Americans' 3-0 victory at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill., but for the most part, goals from Bradley, Clint Dempsey and Brian Ching fairly delineated the differences between the odds-on group favorite and a Caribbean nation that reached its first World Cup just two years ago.
The Americans tended to their business shrewdly and spiritedly, zipping out to a 2-0 lead in the first 18 minutes, riding out a mild T&T revival at the start of the second half, and then driving forward to snuff out the remaining vestiges of resistance via a third goal.
By snagging wins in its first three games, the USA (3-0-0) sits atop Group 1 with nine points and has a spot in the Hexagonal all but locked up with three more matches to play.
Ching played more more less alone up front, yet the movement and interchanging of Dempsey, Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley and Sacha Kljestan seldom gave T&T a breather in the first 45 minutes.
The U.S. 4-5-1 formation often resembled a 3-6-1 in attack, as right back Steve Cherundolo either cruised up the sideline himself or pushed balls to Dempsey and Donovan, whose starting points from wide positions and knifing runs stretched the T&T midfield hopelessly out of shape.
Dempsey, who scored his fourth goal in as many games, and Ching provided plenty of punch in the final third, Donovan buzzed both flanks effectively, Kljestan hit several clever probing balls, and Bradley triggered attacks from a deep holding slot while also screening for the U.S. back line.
Central defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra were nearly impenetrable in the middle, and Onyewu contributed to the second and third goals by challenging for balls in the air.
T&T, in effect, fell behind before the opening kickoff. Longtime veteran and captain Dwight Yorke, supposedly summoned by his English club manager, Roy Keane of Sunderland, had left T&T after it tied Guatemala, 1-1, on Saturday.
Dennis Lawrence, an experienced defender and spiritual leader, started the game on the bench, and stayed there. Another important defender, former Rev Avery John, sat out because of a suspension.
Bradley got to a beautifully bent Donovan free kick to nick the ball home from the edge of the goal area in the ninth minute, and nine minutes later Dempsey pounded home a low shot to finish off a one-two with Beasley that started from an incisive Kljestan entry pass.
Trailing, 2-0, and overrun for most of the first half, T&T made some adjustments at halftime. It pushed its back line higher and pressed harder in the middle third, and for a brief period neutralized the USA.
Keon Daniel and Carlos Edwards won a few corners from forays up the left side but just as T&T sensed a shift in momentum, left back Akile Edwards committed a wild tackle in midfield that earned him a caution and provided the Americans another set play opportunity, which they grabbed.
Ching scored after a Beasley free kick 12 minutes into the second half when T&T goalie Marvin Phillip got his right hand to an Onyewu header just as it left the big defender's forehead, and the carom floated perfectly for Ching to nod the ball over the goal line from very close range.
Onyewu had started the scoring sequence on Dempsey's goal by stepping up to win a ball, with his left forearm, in midfield. Onyewu dominated in the air, floated a beautiful ball over the T&T back line that sent Ching clear, and snuffed out two decent chances with strong blocks. When Cherundolo roamed upfield he slid outside to cover.
A Bradley midfield giveway in the 60th minute provided Cornell Glen with a rare chance to run free into the U.S. third, but Howard parried the low shot and an offside call negated substitute Anthony Wolfe's successful follow-up of the rebound. Aside from that gaffe, Bradley rarely erred. He used the time and space T&T allotted him for much of the match to spray a variety of accurate passes.
Eddie Johnson came on as one of the three substitutes used by Coach Bob Bradley and wandered sluggishly. He did launch a pair of shots in rapid succession; one of them hit Onyewu in the ankle, Keyeno Thomas got in the way of No. 2. Midfielders Ricardo Clark and Eddie Lewis used their minutes off the bench much more productively.
Against an opponent to which it has never lost, the USA won impressively.
Sept. 10 in Bridegview, Ill.
USA 3 Trinidad & Tobago 0. Goals: Bradley 9, Dempsey 18, Ching 57.
USA -Howard, Pearce, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Cherundolo, Beasley, Bradley (Clark, 67), Kljestan, Dempsey (Lewis, 78), Donovan, Ching (Johnson, 67).
Trinidad & Tobago - Phillip, Edwards, Thomas, Hislop, Gray, Daniel, Telesford, Leon, Edwards, Theobald (Wolfe, 46), Glenn.
Referee:Courtney Campbell (Jamaica)
Shots: USA 11, Trinidad & Tobago 6
Shots on Goal: USA 6, Trinidad & Tobago 2
Saves: USA 1, Trinidad & Tobago 3
Corner Kicks:USA 4, Trinidad & Tobago 5
Fouls:USA 9, Trinidad & Tobago 12
Offside: USA 9, Trinidad & Tobago 1
Yellow cards: USA - Cherundolo 59; T&T - Edwards 57, Leon 59.