The U.S. men’s national team’s quest to reclaim the Gold Cup once again needed a long runway to take off, but resulted in an emphatic 6-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago and a place in the quarterfinals being sealed in Cleveland, Ohio, on Saturday.
Gyasi Zardes and Aaron Lon scored twice each, to go with individual tallies from Christian Pulisic and Paul Arriola. No margin of victory can erase the memories of what happened in Couva, Trinidad, in November 2017, but the USMNT’s second-half explosion will have eased some fears over the team’s recent struggles to adapt to new head coach Gregg Berhalter’s system.
The opening 15 minutes were a painful continuation of the Yanks’ struggles from their tournament-opening victory over Guyana — only worse. Rather than struggling to retain possession and create chances of their own, the significant jump in competition resulted in an early onslaught of chances for the Soca Warriors.
Zack Steffen was forced to make a pair of saves inside the first 10 minutes. Each came from long distance and only posed a threat if Steffen were to misread the flight of the ball or mishandle on the catch or punch, but the ease with which the red shirts of T&T flowed through the heart of the American midfield was certainly alarming.
After slowing the game’s frenetic tempo, the USMNT settled in just a bit and was rewarded with a goal in the 41st minute. Pulisic lofted a dangerous cross toward the six-yard box, where Long was situated after a corner kick. The New York Red Bulls center back rose quickly and headed the ball into the ground with enough power to sneak it home off the outstretched hands of Marvin Phillip.
The second half began with the USMNT firmly on the front foot, sitting a bit deeper in defense and springing quickly on the counter-attack. Weston McKennie got on the ball with time and space in midfield and connected a sensational diagonal through ball to Arriola in behind on the left wing. Arriola’s left-footed shot was, however, dragged a couple feet wide.
Tyler Boyd, who scored twice against Guyana, nearly added a third goal to his haul this tournament, but the 24-year-old’s left-footed curler from 20 yards out went agonizingly wide of Phillip’s right-hand post in the 55th minute.
For all of the pressure the USMNT managed to put on T&T through the first 15 minutes of the second half, it was nearly undone in an instant when Levi Garcia got in behind right back Nick Lima and fired a first-time shot just wide of Steffen’s right-hand post. Cordell Cato sprang Garcia with a quick diagonal ball from a giveaway in midfield, and served as a warning shot that T&T was a threat.
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Phillips was called into action again in the 64th minute, though he knew very little about the face-save he made to keep his side’s deficit at one. Pulisic got to the endline where he whipped a cross into the six-yard box and found Arriola. His effort on goal came off his foot and hit Phillips’ face a yard away.
Barely a minute later, Phillips was helpless to deny the Yanks a second goal. Michael Bradley floated a diagonal ball to Lima halfway into the 18-yard box; he headed it straight across the face of goal to Zardes seven yards out, at which point the finish was elementary.
There was nothing elementary about the finish on Zardes’ second goal, just three minutes later. Pulisic cut inside from the left wing and took a trio of defenders with him, opening up the cut-back ball to Zardes at the top of the box. He needed just one touch to control and set up his shot before striking a well-placed curler inside the far post to make it 3-0.
The floodgates were officially open two minutes later, when Zardes was denied his hat trick twice in a matter of 10 seconds — first, he smashed Arriola’s cross off the post from 15 yards out; was then denied by Phillips as he headed another cross from Arriola on target from six yards out.
Pulisic did what Zardes couldn’t — he made it 4-0 — in the 73rd. Jordan Morris worked his way down the right side of the box before cutting inside and laying a square ball to Pulisic on the left, where he had all the time he needed to pick his spot and finish back to the right.
Arriola tacked on the fifth goal five minutes later, in the 78th, making good on another simple pass from Morris. Long chested a high-bounding rebound home for the USMNT’s sixth and final goal mere seconds before the final whistle.