COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — The U.S. overcame a scoreless first half and some nervous moments to beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 in a World Cup qualifier on Thursday at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Both U.S. goals were scored by rising star Christian Pulisic, the 18-year-old midfielder who now has six goals in his 15 appearances for the United States.
The visitors frustrated the U.S. mightily with a 5-4-1 formation and a defensive posture, and Trinidad and Tobago could have gone ahead on more than one occasion. But the U.S. eventually made enough big plays when it mattered to seal the win. With seven points in its last three qualifiers, the U.S. has recovered well under Arena after losing its first two games of the Hexagonal last November.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
The Pulisic rise continues
What more can you say about the kid? After 52 minutes of scoreless frustration for the U.S., the 18-year-old Pulisic scored twice to send a spasm of relief among American fans who knew getting three points at home was crucial on Thursday.
Pulisic’s first goal—a straightforward finish down the middle—came after some brilliant work by Darlington Nagbe and DeAndre Yedlin in the box. Pulisic’s second goal, just 10 minutes later, was an example of how precise his favored right foot can be, as he beat goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams on his near-post (a goalkeeper no-no) with a perfectly placed shot.
There’s no doubt at this point: Pulisic, who didn’t start a single game at last year’s Copa América Centenario, is the best U.S. player today. And he’s getting better all the time.
Nagbe and Villafaña continued earning their starting spots
It’s fair to say that Nagbe and Jorge Villafaña probably wouldn’t have even been on this U.S. roster if the coach was still Jurgen Klinsmann. But Bruce Arena has put his faith in Nagbe as a wide midfielder and Villafaña as a left back, and they repaid that trust on Thursday.
Nagbe has that little something different on the ball when he gets it, and he’s a technically sound player who can dribble out of trouble and create. His presence of mind to combine with Yedlin on Pulisic’s first goal was magical. As for Villafaña, he has come in and won the starting left back spot, and he got forward regularly against Trinidad to deliver crosses and even a dangerous shot from outside the box. So far they’re making Arena look pretty smart.
Give Trinidad and Tobago some credit
In years past, the Soca Warriors have given the U.S. trouble at home but really struggled on the road. (Remember the 4-0 U.S. win in Jacksonville just a few months ago?) But Dennis Lawrence and his coaching staff (which includes Sol Campbell and Stern John) had the Soca Warriors ready for this game and knowing exactly how they wanted to play against the United States.
That meant a 5-4-1 set-up that frustrated the Americans defensively while still giving Trinidad a chance to get forward at times and create opportunities. (Kenwyne Jones nearly put his team ahead 1-0 when his first-half header crashed off the crossbar.) This was supposed to be the easiest game of the 10-match Hexagonal for the U.S., but it won’t be remembered as such.