(Altidore hat trick VIDEO)
Having beaten the same team by the same score at home in the semifinal round, the scoreline could have been anticipated. Yet a fiercer collective mindset than that displayed while tying El Salvador, 2-2, on Saturday enabled the lineup changes invoked by Coach Bob Bradley to maximum effect.
Donovan lined up at left mid, with Clint Dempsey on the right. They bracketed a central duo of Michael Bradley and Pablo Mastroeni, who dominated the middle of the park much as Bradley and Sacha Kljestan had done against Mexico. This time, though, instead of the 21-year-old coach's son scoring twice, the 19-year-old prodigy, paired up top with Brian Ching, notched thrice.
Oguchi Onyewu returned to central defense alongside Carlos Bocanegra, and along with winning tackles and repelling high balls, both of them supplied effective passes out of the back. Altidore's first goal, in the 13th minute, followed a long ball lofted forward by Bocanegra up the left side that Ching nodded over an opponent to Donovan, whose driven low ball across the goalmouth was turned into the net by Altidore from six yards out.
Despite its dominance, the USA failed to score a second goal until the 71st minute, following a period of mild T&T pressure. The Americans crisply moved the ball upfield and Altidore lit up the night by cushioning a Donovan pass outside the box, taking a huge stride forward to slip past a lunging defender with his second touch, and then stroking the ball confidently past keeper Clayton Ince.
Donovan set Altidore up again in the 89th minute as both he and Bradley proffered a prime hat-trick opportunity. Bradley glided through an offside trap, had time and space to shoot but instead played a square ball to Donovan, who likewise had a good lane to goal. He spotted Altidore lurking outside the box, played the ball to him, and Altidore's low shot skipped under a clumsy lunge by Ince to sting the net.
Altidore excelled at much more than finishing. He roamed laterally behind Ching, shifting out wide to attack the corners of the penalty area and dropping back to more easily link with Michael Bradley and Donovan, who flubbed a few early touches but soon clicked into attack mode. With Ching pushing up high, the T&T defenders either had to try to play him offside, which isn't their forte, or try to pry the ball from him, also not among their strong points. So they either let him pass the ball to his teammates, who with their movement and cohesion consistently supplied multiple options, or fouled, thus conceding numerous free kicks within crossing or shooting range of their goal.
With Mastroeni as his central partner instead of Kljestan, Michael Bradley played more north-south and wisely used the vast areas of space conceded by T&T. Kljestan is a more incisive attacker, but Mastroeni is a smarter, stronger anchor. His experience and positioning enabled him to blunt T&T forays near the midfield line, from where he and Bradley started numerous attacks. Bradley's excellence with the ball stemmed from Mastroeni's prowess at winning it.
The deployment of DaMarcus Beasley at left back softened the defense somewhat, though he did run down a few attacks and strip balls loose on double teams. At times he pushed up the left side into midfield, which moved Donovan higher and gave the USA a 3-4-3 look going forward. Altidore and occasionally Ching slid out wide to open up space for Donovan to work the middle and further confuse T&T, whose defenders and midfielders seldom worked in tandem and left large gaps.
Carlos Edwards raced behind Beasley to cause a few moments of concern for Onyewu and Bocanegra, but rarely did T&T generate anything more than low-percentage headers under pressure or hopeful whacks from distance. Edwards got past Beasley in the first to center a low ball with no teammate in the vicinity and Onyewu cleared easily. In the second half, Stern John chested down a cross but didn't strike his shot cleanly and the ball spun well wide of keeper Tim Howard.
Edwards' counterpart at right back, Frankie Hedjuk, stormed up the right flank to further unhinge the T&T defense, as did occasional bursts from Dempsey, whose rugged runs at defenders often drew attention away from his teammates, all of whom earned acclaim.
World Cup Qualifying; Final Round
April 1 in Nashville, Tenn.
USA 3 Trinidad & Tobago 0.
Goals: Altidore (Donovan) 13, Altidore (Donovan) 71 Altidore (Donovan) 89.
USA - Howard, Hejduk, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Beasley, Dempsey (Kljestan, 84), Bradley, Mastroeni, Donovan, Ching (Torres, 81), Altidore.
TRINIDAD & TOBAGO - Ince, Edwards, Wolfe (Hislop, 46), Thomas, Lawrence, Birchall (Hyland, 56), Edwards, Leon, Daniel (Scotland, 71), Jones, John.
Shots on Goal: 6/1
Corner Kicks: 2/2
Yellow cards: T&T -- Edwards 53.
Referee: Roberto Moreno (Panama)