Mediocre USA almost exploited by T&T

[WORLD CUP QUALIFYING] A solid start and a good finish carried the Americans past Trinidad & Tobago Wednesday in Port of Spain, but only a few sharp saves by keeper Tim Howard stood between a 1-0 win and a less favorable result. Ricardo Clark's 25-yard blast in the 62nd minute followed an inspired start to the second half and though T&T conjured up more chances than perhaps the Americans should have allowed after that goal, the USA escaped unscathed.

In the opening minutes, wide midfielders Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan pushed high up the field, trying to free up forwards Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore, and outside backs Jonathan Bornstein and Jonathan Spector drove balls up the touchlines to increase pressure on T&T's back line. A powerful run by Davies ended with a foul and free kick the USA couldn't take advantage of, and on another attack a harsh tackle flattened Dempsey and no foul was called.

After that initial flurry, T&T seized control of the flanks, and though Hayden Pinto seldom got free, outside back Carlos Edwards and midfielder Trent Noel were more effective getting dangerous crosses into the box.

Kenwyne Jones and forward partner Cornell Glen tested Howard with headers on several occasions as center backs Carlos Bocanegra and Oguchi Onyewu fought fruitlessly to establish dominance. Glen lobbed a shot off the crossbar after scorching Bocanegra on a seemingly innocuous throw-in from midfield, and though the Americans quickly countered, Altidore's fierce shot came from such a distance that T&T keeper Clayton Ince punched it out.

Howard faced more severe tests, smothering close-range headers, and tipping away a Noel free kick with a spectacular dive. Another long-range effort from Edwards sailed narrowly wide of the top corner as T&T's spirit and aggression swept up loose balls and channeled them quickly into the U.S. defensive third.

Still, the USA nearly scored in first-half stoppage time, when Donovan glided through the middle and pushed a ball wide to Altidore, who played it back to Donovan behind the defense. His low shot caught Ince leaning the wrong way but the keeper still blocked it with his right foot at the base of the near post.

To start the second half, the Americans upped their energy level on and off the ball, and spaces began to open up as T&T could no longer dictate the tempo. Michael Bradley took on a more assertive role when the USA gained possession, and the T&T midfielders began to tire as they had to do more chasing and switching. After Spector blocked an Edwards cross, the U.S. failed to clear, but Bradley got back to win the ball, and eventually Edwards blazed a free kick over the bar from about 40 yards.

Clark nailed a right-footed missile following a nice buildup triggered by Bradley, who played a ball to Dempsey that he relayed wide left to Donovan. As teammates pushed into the penalty area to occupy opponents, Donovan waited before touching a diagonal ball to Clark, whose wickedly bending shot swerved through two defenders and away from Ince's desperate lunge.

Benny Feilhaber replaced Altidore and went into midfield, with Demspey joining Davies up top. Dempsey's increased workrate and Feilhaber's fresh legs blotted out T&T's attacks for a few minutes, yet a when a partially cleared cross was played back in, it found Jones unmarked, and he headed right at Howard. A few minutes later on a corner kick, substitute Keon Daniel got free, yet sent his glancing header wide of the far post. Whether by fatigue or lack of communication or both, the Americans were often found lacking on set plays.

T&T got balls to forwards in dangerous spots, though Howard's rare interventions were routine, unlike in the first half. Sub Jason Scotland, who didn't arrive until the 84th minute, battled through multiple tackles to keep the USA on its heels, Glen never stopped working, and Kerry Baptiste, another sub, added his fury to the fray.

Dempsey's replacement in the 82nd minute, Stuart Holden, reprised his supersub role against El Salvador last weekend by breaking down the right flank to hit a deflected pass that Donovan first-timed just over the bar. In stoppage time, Dynamo teammate Brian Ching played him a ball in the box but Holden hit it weakly on the turn and it rolled right to Ince.

In the final seconds, Bornstein got caught too far inside and inadvertently redirected a low cross on goal but Howard got down to smother it and preserve a very slim and hard-fought three points.

Clark's long-range goal -- a shot that seemed headed toward Ince before veering to the keeper's left -- was set up by Donovan, who kept possession on flank before delivering a low pass nicely into Clark's path.


"Throughout the whole game Landon was able to get down the line and that cutback was on," said Clark. "I love being at the top of the box waiting for that shot, it's a big part of my game. I just tried to let it rip, hit it on frame and it went in."

For the first time since the last two matches of 2005, the USA has gone consecutive games avoiding the referee's book, meaning that the six players who played carrying a yellow card - Jozy Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra, Clint Dempsey, Benny Feilhaber, Clark and Donovan -- will be available on Oct. 10 in Honduras.

"For us it was a very important three points," said U.S. coach Bob Bradley. "We felt that it was well earned because tonight was a difficult game. A lot of credit goes to Trinidad & Tobago. I felt they put a great effort out tonight and made it very hard. We spoke at halftime and we understood the game we were in. We felt we could raise the level in the second half and we're pleased with the win."

Sept. 9 in Port of Spain
Trin. & Tobago 0 USA 1. Goal: Clark 62.
Trinidad & Tobago -- Ince, Edwards, Abu Bakr, Lawrence, Samuel, Tinto (Daniel, 66), Leon, Noel (Scotland, 84), Spann (Baptiste, 72), Glen, Jones.
USA -- Howard, Spector, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Bornstein, Dempsey (Holden, 82), Clark, Bradley, Donovan, Davies (Ching, 77), Altidore (Feilhaber, 63).
Yellow Card: Trinidad & Tobago -- Samuel 25.
Referee: Joel Aguilar (El Salvador).

Shots: 11 / 10
Shots on Goal: 6 / 4
Saves: 4 / 5
Corner Kicks: 6 / 5
Fouls: 14 / 14
Offside: 3 / 5

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