PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — The U.S. tied Trinidad and Tobago 0-0 in a semifinal round World Cup qualifier on Tuesday that saw both teams have occasional chances but fail to capitalize on them.
The best one of all came when the U.S.’s Gyasi Zardes crashed a header off the crossbar early in the second half after Jozy Altidore (who’d done a good job as a set-up man all night) served him a ball on a platter.
It was one of two sorely missed chances by Zardes, who started up top in place of Bobby Wood and has to finish at least one of those opportunities at this level. It also left you wondering if Clint Dempsey, who was left off the squad despite scoring nine goals in 10 U.S. games this year, would have finished one or both of those chances. And that’s on U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann.
The U.S., which maintained two-thirds of the possession, was the better attacking team in the second half, but as it pressed forward it was unable to get the decisive goal. Jermaine Jones hit the crossbar on a blast from distance in the 78th minute, trying to conjure something for an attack that wasn't at its best all night.
The result leaves the U.S. in first place in the group after two games with four points and a plus-five goal difference, thanks to Friday's 6-1 win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Trinidad and Tobago also has four points but owns a plus-one goal difference. Guatemala is in third place with three points, while St. Vincent and the Grenadines have zero. The top two teams will advance to the final 10-game round of CONCACAF qualifying, the Hexagonal.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
The U.S. needs to start taking on defenders more often
The Americans certainly had players who are capable of beating guys one-on-one, like Fabian Johnson, DeAndre Yedlin, Michael Bradley, Altidore and Zardes, but they didn’t do it nearly enough on Tuesday.
On so many occasions, the U.S. tried to pass its way out of trouble and around defenders. But sometimes you need to show some real intent and try to beat people on the dribble.
The hosts defended well overall, but they weren’t as intimidating as the U.S.’s timid approach made them out to be. The introduction of Darlington Nagbe in the second half helped a bit, but not enough.
The starting U.S. fullbacks provided zero attacking threat
And that wasn’t surprising, considering right back Michael Orozco and left back Tim Ream are natural center backs.
Klinsmann decided to use Yedlin (right side) and Johnson (left) as his wide midfielders, which left him no options at fullback who could be a threat moving forward. Maybe deploying stay-at-home fullbacks is something you’re tempted to do when you’re on the road against a physical team with speed, but the U.S. was lacking an important dimension as a result. Orozco and Ream aren’t exactly Roberto Carlos moving forward, and they didn’t bother to try.
Altidore was the best U.S. player
Nominally a forward, Altidore dropped back throughout the game and created some good chances for his teammates, mostly Zardes, who couldn’t finish them.
There will be U.S. fans who give this game its share of poop emojis, and you can understand the frustration that has come from a brutal year for the U.S. men’s program finished by a meh performance here. But this is the team the U.S. has now.
Its identity is essentially that it has no identity anymore. And that has to be a big concern heading into 2016 after the annus horribilis just completed.