Revenge? Hardly; a World Cup berth was not at stake for the U.S. as it played Trinidad & Tobago for the first time since infamous 2-1 loss at Couva in October 2017 that kept the American men out of the FIFA World Cup for the first time since 1986.
But the stunning slowness and ineptitude that marked U.S. play in that game was happily not on display on Saturday in its second game of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio. The U.S. looked awake and alert, and intent on attacking rather than defending, right from the start.
Trinidad & Tobago had one good chance on a counterattack that was rejected by U.S. keeper Zack Steffen, but as the half wore on, the game was increasingly played on the visitor’s side of the field.
The pressure continued, with good midfield play keeping the ball and more and more balls to players through the box. In the 41st minute, a Christian Pulisic free kick flew to the far end of the T&T goal and defender Aaron Long headed a bouncer that flew off the knee of keeper Marvin Phillip and into the net for a 1-0 U.S. lead.
The second half got testy in the 57th minute, with some pushing and shoving, and Levi Garcia got a strong chance at the U.S. goal, but sailed overhead. Steffen had to knock away another challenge two minutes later from Kevin Molino, but then the game changed.
In the 66th minute, it was Nick Lima’s cross in front of the goal that set up a powerful goal from Gyasi Zardes that made it 2-0, his second in two games in the Gold Cup.
Suddenly, the flood gates opened. Three minutes later, Pulisic dropped off the ball just outside the box and Zardes ripped a laser into the far right corner of the goal for a 3-0 lead and the rout was on.
The U.S. pressure was unrelenting and Zardes hit the post in the 71st minute, and Phillip saved a sure goal by Zardes on a return pass. Two minutes later, it was Pulisic who got a pass across the box from Jordan Morris and whistled the ball past Philip for a 4-0 margin.
In the 78th minute, Morris sent another cross in front of the box and Paul Arriola pounded the ball into the net for a 5-0 rout. Long chested in a second score in the 90th minute off a rebound of a Wes McKennie shot for the 6-0 final.
After two games against Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, the U.S. has won by a combined score of 10-0. That’s good – and satisfying – but not their goal in this tournament. But the U.S. men looked as good as they have all year under new coach Gregg Berhalter.
With the victory, the U.S. clinches its spot in the knock-out round of the Gold Cup (yawn), along with Mexico (Group A), Costa Rica and Haiti (Group B) and Panama from Group D and three more to be determined. The U.S. will play Panama (2-0) to determine the winner of the group, on Wednesday in Kansas City.
Gold Cup summary through Saturday’s games (top two teams qualify from each group; records shown as W-L-T):
● Group A: 1. Mexico, 6 points (2-0); 2. Canada, 3 (1-1-0); 3. Martinique, 3 (1-1-0); 4. Cuba, 0 (0-2-0).
● Group B: 1. Costa Rica, 6 (2-0-0); 2. Haiti, 6 (2-0-0); 3. Bermuda, 0 (0-2-0); 4. Nicaragua, 0 (0-2-0).
● Group C: 1. Jamaica, 4 (1-0-1); 2. El Salvador, 4 (1-0-1); 3. Curacao, 3 (1-1-0); 4. Honduras, 0 (0-2-0).
● Group D: 1. United States, 6 (2-0-0); 2. Panama, 6 (2-0-0); 3. Trinidad & Tobago, 0 (0-2-0); 4. Guyana, 0 (0-2-0).
The group stage ends on 24 June. More details on the CONCACAF site here.