USA-T&T: 'American Jewel' shines brightly in first start

As if there was any doubt, the USA is through to Hexagonal for sixth straight time, wrapping up the semifinal round of World Cup 2018 qualifying in Concacaf with a 4-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago, which it will meet again next year.

The USA closed out the semifinal round with 10 goals in its final two games, albeit against the weakest of the 12 Concacaf teams (St. Vincent & The Grenadines) and the weakest of the six teams in the Hex (T&T).

It was an impressive attacking display, taking the USA's total to 20 goals in six games, the most of any team in the semifinal round and the most the USA has ever scored in this stage of the competition.

Hexagonal: Complete Schedule

What make the goalfest that much more impressive was that the USA was without Clint Dempsey (sidelined with an irregular heart beat) and Gyasi Zardes (out through the end of the MLS regular season with a broken foot), the USA's top scorers in 2016 through the Copa Centenario.

1. Pulisic is up to the task -- in starting lineup.

After ticking off every reason why he shouldn't rush Christian Pulisic into the starting lineup, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann ended up starting the 17-year-old phenom.

At Borussia Dortmund, the German press has dubbed Pulisic "Das Ami-Juwel" ("the American Jewel") and he didn't disappoint. He didn't scored two goals like he did  in his 25-minute appearance against St. Vincent & The Grenadines, but he did everything but in  Jacksonville.

Pulisic forced T&T keeper Marvin Phillip into a diving stop in the seventh minute and managed to hit both posts in the 31st minute without scoring. When the four U.S. goals came, Pulisic was involved, directly or indirectly, in each of them:

Pulisic role in U.S. goals:
Sacha Kljestan, 44th minute (cross wasn't cleared --> rebound)
Jozy Altidore
, 59th minute  (drew second defender away from Altidore)
Jozy Altidore
, 62th minute (assist)
Paul Arriola
, 71st minute (shot saved --> rebound)

2. Altidore keeps up goal-a-game pace in 2016.

After opening the scoring for the USA at St. Vincent & The Grenadines, Bobby Wood had a rather quiet two games in terms of production, but T&T coach Stephen Hart noted all the work he did pulling the Soca Warriors' defense apart. But his frontline partner, Jozy Altidore, scored once against the Vincy Heat and added two goals three minutes apart against T&T.

The two goals moved Altidore past Dempsey as the USA's all-time leading scorer in World Cup qualifying with 16 goals. They also gave him six goals in six games in 2016 and goals in all four starts.

USA-T&T: U.S. Player Ratings

3. Kljestan won't have to  wait 30 months between call-ups again.

Sacha Kljestan wasn't even on the original U.S. roster for the final two games of qualifying. But with Jermaine Jones still injured and Michael Bradley suspended for the SVG game, the New York Red Bulls midfielder was recalled for the first time since before the 2014 World Cup.

WCQ: Complete Concacaf Semifinal Round Results

All Kljestan did was score in both games, his opportunistic goal against T&T being the winner. He might not have supplanted Jones in Klinsmann's eyes in central midfield, but he certainly did enough in the two games -- he also assisted on Pulisic's two goals at St. Vincent & The Grenadines -- so he doesn't have to worry about waiting another 30 months between call-ups.

16 comments about "USA-T&T: 'American Jewel' shines brightly in first start".
  1. Kent James, September 7, 2016 at 10:38 a.m.

    Yeah, Pulisic rocked it. Always dangerous, hit a number of crosses low across the goalmouth (a few maybe could have been directed better), but was finally rewarded when Jozy (I think) finished one. A little slow to recognize Fabian Johnson's great overlapping run, but overall, this kid's a keeper...

  2. R2 Dad, September 7, 2016 at 10:42 a.m.

    I think Sasha is the real story here. Unloved by JK and only brought in as a back-up, he is more dynamic and less of a turnover machine than Bradley. Of course it's exciting the young guys are brought in and get minutes, but let's not underestimate SK's contributions. Very curious if JK sits him in the hex when MB and JJ return.

  3. Wooden Ships, September 7, 2016 at 11:58 a.m.

    Talked with CP before the game and he said he was going to try to get an assist on one of his goals, becoming the first in history to do so. He thought it was going in after it hit the first post so he didn't continue his run. Only the gifted can tease so easily. R 2, Sacha has (the last two games) brought some much needed danger to our attack. Hope he can continue. Not sure what JK will do in upcoming games as he pleasently surprised me last night. MB did his normal yeoman work, but maybe it will be easier for JK to expect even more out of our field players. Wood is so active it makes a difference in our attack and as much as I dislike the occasional clunkyness of Jozy he has moments where he finds the back of the net. Howard still commands better than Guzan. Had Birnbaum and Omar ever paired before? Howard sure helped with their confidence.

  4. Bob Ashpole, September 7, 2016 at 12:46 p.m.

    WS, all very good points. Neither Pulisic's nor Kljestan's performances should be a surprise to anyone. What did surprise me was the back line that JK selected and how well they played together. As often is the case, the game was a closer contest than the final score would indicate. What I liked about the match was 1) it was well coached, 2) Josey's movement was tactically smarter especially on the second goal, 3) the US won the match with possession style, 4) the US played with only 1 holding midfielder, and 5) JK gave the younger attacking players some meaningful playing time together. Josey still needs to improve his tactical movement combining with a strike partner. He is too often caught out of supporting distance. It also seemed to me that the attack was working best as a 4132 with a lot of interchange among the attacking positions. It creates serious problems for teams trying to double mark US forwards and very suited to Dempsey's style of play. In my mind this match showed progress in terms of the program.

  5. David Mont replied, September 7, 2016 at 12:54 p.m.

    This was T&T (which didn't even need any kind of a result), wasn't it?

  6. Bob Ashpole replied, September 7, 2016 at 2:13 p.m.

    Yes, and I am saying that being able to successfully execute a game plan against T&T that does not depend on counterattacking or set pieces is progress that the US can build on.

  7. cisco martinez, September 7, 2016 at 12:47 p.m.

    Does anyone hold Klinsmann accountable? I haven't heard the media ask why Pulisic didn't start in the Copa America? Pulisic is coming off the bench and/or starting for Dortmund and barely played in the Copa America for the US. Pulisic in my opinion as a youth is moving faster than what Donovan did and at least Bruce Arena had the decency to start him in big games. We also have many of our youth not even given a chance, Lyndon Gooch starting in Sunderland, Olosunde Manchester United youth, Rubio FC Etrecht in Holland, etc.

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, September 7, 2016 at 2:32 p.m.

    You make an excellent point about the young players. As you know every professional coach is reluctant to use young players. The coaches have no job security except through winning matches. The media and fan base do have influence over JK's actions, as I think this match established. As IMO do your constructive comments and comments by others like you in the coaching community. Ultimately JK's legacy depends on how well he incorporates younger players in the pool over the next two years. Yesterday demonstrates that JK understands this. I think we will see more of this in the future.

  9. Wooden Ships replied, September 7, 2016 at 4:21 p.m.

    I agree Cisco regarding several young quality players not getting a call up. There is the roster limit and the judgement of selection. As Bob stated I think JK has been influenced. I do think he is conservative by nature, contrary to our expectations. Do we have talent available to play a more sophisticated game? I think so. It's not a given we get to Russia, and knowing that I see JK retaining-counting on some that he feels comfortable with. But those that he feels that way about are not the ones that could get us deep into the Cup. I wish Nagbe would have played. I'm glad Jurgen seemed to risk more than he ever has, but we need to see if Darlington has the "it factor". Training sessions can't tell you that. Does he see the game unfold before most players and if so, like CP, we can really up our pressure on our opponents.

  10. BJ Genovese, September 7, 2016 at 10:14 p.m.

    Just watched the first half.... Ok folks... Calm down vs TnT... Remember one thing. It was not world class... By any means. The Pulisic hype is almost nauseating.

  11. Wooden Ships replied, September 8, 2016 at 2:04 a.m.

    BJ, you're correct, but I wouldn't and don't fawn over any one player. It's a team game and even the greatest of all time need their mates.

  12. beautiful game, September 7, 2016 at 10:14 p.m.

    IMHO, Pulisic is a better player than LD at this age; much better. Takes on defenders and makes things happen. Doesn't waste time or tries to do too much. Keeps it simple.With a high soccer IQ and passion for the game, he has the ability to forge a terrific career.

  13. Wooden Ships replied, September 8, 2016 at 2:07 a.m.

    Agreed I w, he reminds me of Bayerns Mueller. Simple, technical and instinctive.

  14. Ric Fonseca, September 7, 2016 at 11:39 p.m.

    One extremely crucial point to make and remind everyone in two words: Freddy Adu. And if he isn't "groomed" carefully, we will reap what we sowed before.

  15. beautiful game replied, September 8, 2016 at 9:16 p.m.

    Ric, why bring up Freddy; he was not mentally ready at 14, 15, or 16; the league made no effort to suppress the hoopla and the coaching staff threw him into the sink hole. Pulisic is 17, mentally strong, has a development plan, and is in the Bundesliga making waves.

  16. Wooden Ships, September 8, 2016 at 2:19 a.m.

    I think CP is a whole different cat Ric. After just having several fingers of single malt and Guiness with an Irish bloke, and my garage moving, I'm thinking Freddy, while a technical player, didn't have the same mental makeup as CP. Not a slam, just a difference. And, he's not with with DC United. CP is really good, in all measurables.

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