The U.S. men's national team took a big step forward toward clinching its place in the final round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, with five players scoring in a 6-0 rout of St. Vincent and the Grenadines at Arnos Vale Stadium on Friday afternoon.
Bobby Wood, Matt Besler and Jozy Altidore gave the U.S. a 3-0 lead into halftime, and Christian Pulisic and Sacha Kljestan each assisted for each other off the bench before Pulisic scored again in stoppage time to cap the one-sided effort in the Caribbean.
The CONCACAF hexagonal is now firmly in the U.S.’s sights. After Trinidad and Tobago tied Guatemala later on Friday, the only way the U.S. won’t earn a berth is if it loses to Trinidad and Tobago in its next qualifier and Guatemala both defeats St. Vincent and the Grenadines and makes up a 12-goal difference with the U.S.
Wood blew an early chance for the U.S., scuffing a chance from close range after being sprung on a breakaway by Fabian Johnson. The versatile Johnson got the start in the midfield, with Kellyn Acosta trusted at left back, and he split the defense with a perfect ball over the top for Wood, only for the Hamburg forward to mis-hit his opportunity while in on goal.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines also blew a chance to take the lead in the 27th minute, with Oalex Anderson–who scored in the fifth minute of the teams' meeting in St. Louis in November–not fully connecting on his header after sneaking in behind the U.S. defense on a long free kick. Guzan made the simple save to keep it scoreless.
Just a minute later, Wood put the U.S. ahead. Johnson took a short pass from Altidore, laying it off for Wood. He curled home a 19-yard effort with his right foot, allowing the U.S. to exhale before the half-hour mark.
That seemed to open the floodgates some for the U.S., which scored four minutes later. Besler, playing the day his child was born, took advantage of a poorly cleared free kick that landed at his feet, and he finished from close range for his first career international goal.
Altidore made it 3-0 USA just before halftime, tying Clint Dempsey's USA record with his 14th World Cup qualifying goal. Wood drew a penalty after taking a flying kick to the chest in the box from Roy Richards, and Altidore followed with a thunderous finish from the spot.
The hosts didn't go quietly in the second half. St. Vincent had two would-be goals disallow for accurate offside calls, taking advantage of a sloppier U.S. defensive effort to nearly chip away within the opening 10 minutes of the final 45.
Pulisic and Kljestan came into the game together for the U.S. in the 66th minute, and moments later they combined for a beautiful fourth goal for the U.S. Kljestan bent a ball through defenders into the box, where an in-stride Pulisic latched onto it and scored from close range for his second career international goal. At 17 years, 349 days, he became the youngest U.S. goal scorer ever in World Cup qualifying.
Pulisic returned the favor to Kljestan seven minutes later. The Borussia Dortmund attacker got deep into the box on the left and crossed into space in front of the goal, where Kljestan ran onto it and tapped in to make it 5-0 in the 78th minute. It was Kljestan's first U.S. goal since February 24, 2010 in what was his first U.S. appearance since March 5, 2014.
Pulisic finished off the rout with a gorgeous effort from the top of the area, putting a right-footed effort past a rooted goalkeeper and inside the left post after receiving another set-up from Kljestan.
The USA will face Trinidad & Tobago Tuesday night in Jacksonville at EverBank Field to close the qualifying round.
Here was the full U.S. roster for the game:
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Ethan Horvath (Molde FC), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)
DEFENDERS: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)
MIDFIELDERS: Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), 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)