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Pulisic admits hint of satisfying revenge in win over Trinidad & Tobago

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Before the game, they were all business. This was not a chance to avenge the painful loss to Trinidad & Tobago in World Cup qualifying to infamously knock the United States out of contention for Russia 2018.

“Other than it being a nice narrative for you guys, I’m not sure inside of the group if it carries a whole lot of weight,” captain Michael Bradley said prior to the United States’ meeting with Trinidad & Tobago in Gold Cup group stage play. “For me, it’s the second game of the Gold Cup,” Paul Arriola claimed. Beating them was “not going to change anything,” said Christian Pulisic.

Six goals and three points later, the USMNT secured a 6-0 victory that featured a blistering second half led by Pulisic who scored one and assisted two more. For the 20-year-old Chelsea winger, all the talk before the game was hogwash.

“At halftime we said just keep going and going and eventually the goals started to flow,” Pulisic said to the Fox broadcast after the match. “I didn’t like to say it, but I definitely had a little chip on my shoulder today and I hope you guys could see that.” The little chuckle buried in there said it all.

Pulisic was seen in tears on the field after the loss to Trinidad two years ago, overcome with emotion after proving unable to carry the entire team’s weight and secure qualification in the World Cup. To enact some form of revenge, no matter how small, had to feel good, even if there were hardly any players left on the current Trinidad team from the one on that famous night.

With the storming win, the United States has secured passage to the Gold Cup knockout stage and will play Panama on Tuesday in its group stage finale to determine the group winner.

3 things we learned from USMNT win

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As the U.S. men’s national team creeps ever so slowly toward delivering a 90-minute performance to be proud of, here’s what we learned as Gregg Berhalter’s side thrashed Trinidad & Tobago for five second-half goals in a 6-0 victory in the Gold Cup on Saturday…

[ MORE: USMNT starts slow, destroys T&T with five second-half goals (video) ]

The midfield still looks like a rudderless ship (at times)

It would be unwise — if temptingly easy — to overlook the USMNT’s slow start and focus solely on the final scoreline, because for much of the first 45 minutes — especially the first 15 — there were some major issues in the middle of the field.

It’s unclear whether this is due to the system — say, the forward line isn’t putting enough pressure on the ball higher up the field — or if the chemistry in midfield has just been slow to come together. In truth, it’s probably a bit of both.

Michael Bradley and Weston McKennie have had precious little time to work together and figure out the balance between themselves — a pair of high-energy midfielders who’ll cover ground from one endline to the endline if you ask them to do so. On a handful of occasions, each of them were caught much too high upfield together, which resulted in an unimpeded jaunt through the center of the field as soon as possession was lost.

These kinks will, with any luck, work themselves out as the past/present midfield general hands over the reins to the future/present midfield general. In the meantime, don’t be surprised if Panama, or any of the region’s other big boys, find plenty of joy the same way T&T did for periods on Saturday.

Real danger comes from the wings

For the time being at least, just about every meaningful USMNT attack originates from, or is directed toward, the wings. If you’re at all familiar with how the Columbus Crew played under Berhalter, that won’t come as any surprise — especially, considering the American player pool is completely devoid of a Federico Higuain-type playmaker in the middle.

On Saturday, it was a joy to behold some of the diagonal balls being played over the top (HERE, HERE and HERE) and on the ground (below) to find wide players in space. For the vast majority of the game, balls out to wide areas were the USMNT’s first, second and third option. They achieved this by overloading both the right and left sides again and again — Christian Pulisic and Paul Arriola on the left, and Nick Lima and Tyler Boyd on the right.

It worked against a team like T&T, a side without aerially dominant center backs, but is unlikely to prove six-goals successful against CONCACAF’s best later in this tournament, let alone World Cup-caliber sides.

It’s not actually about winning the Gold Cup

The number of times we’ll have to remind ourselves of the following over the next months is, perhaps, infinite: the results matter very little right now, it’s all about the performances and the partnerships being cultivated with the 2022 World Cup in mind.

Would it be nice to regain the CONCACAF crown and lift the Gold Cup in a couple weeks’ time? Not really, but sure. Would it be nice to get as many of the remaining growing pains — and there are plenty, evidenced by those first 45 minutes on Saturday — out of the way as soon as possible? Absolutely.

The USMNT’s next attempt at World Cup qualifying will likely begin sometime next year, and winning this tournament at the cost of long-term progress will do them no favors then. There’s plenty of learning for the current crop of young players to do when it comes to pacing themselves for the long haul of a tournament competition and gaining experience in competitive games against teams they’ll likely see in the business rounds of WCQ, no doubt about it, but veering away from playing those young players in favor of picking veterans who can win now remains the worst possible thing Berhalter could do.

Thus far, he’s done well to resist any urge he might, or might not, have had.

USMNT starts slow, destroys T&T with five second-half goals (video)

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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.

[ MORE: All of PST’s USMNT coverage | Gold Cup ]

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.

[ WOMEN’S WORLD CUP: Norway tops Australia on PKs | Germany reaches QF ]

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.

[ COPA AMERICA: Brazil destroys Peru to join Chile, Colombia in QF (video) ]

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.

FOLLOW LIVE, Gold Cup: USMNT seeks improvement v. T&T

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Following a largely disappointing debut at the 2019 Gold Cup, the U.S. men’s national team is set to return to action for game no. 2 in Group D as they take on Trinidad & Tobago on Saturday (8 p.m. ET).

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT takes on T&T in Cleveland ]

Gregg Berhalter has made no changes to the starting lineup that beat Guyana 4-0, but no until after waking up after a sluggish and thoroughly unimpressive first-half performance.

Most notably, Jozy Altidore remains on the bench, with Gyasi Zardes preferred at center forward.

This is, of course, the first meeting between the Yanks and Soca Warriors since the former was denied 2018 World Cup qualification on the final day of the Hexagonal in 2017.

Hit the link above to follow along for the next two hours, and check back on PST for a full recap and in-depth analysis after the final whistle.

USMNT gets first chance to reassert its CONCACAF status

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Not going to lie to you: It’d be nice to see some vengeance.

No, beating Trinidad and Tobago at the Gold Cup isn’t going to magically put the United States men’s national team back in the 2018 World Cup, nor will it erase nearly two years of seething from the record.

But honestly, you just want to feel like something, anything, is emotionally different in U.S. Soccer from the federation that puked all over the qualifying process for 2018.

[ REPORT: De Ligt chooses Juve ]

Let’s start here: Regardless of what Michael Bradley says about Saturday night’s match versus Trinidad and Tobago — “I’m not sure inside of the group if it carries a whole lot of weight” — the Yanks should absolutely feel ready to come out firing against the Soca Warriors.

It’s Bradley’s job as a veteran leader to play down tension ahead of the second group stage game of a second-tier tournament, but we’re pretty sure Christian Pulisic isn’t sleeping on the nation whose B-team deprived him of his World Cup. Omar Gonzalez didn’t build himself back up from a terrible own goal in Couva to have this be “just another game.”

Want to send a message within the team, supporters, and CONCACAF that things are different, even if it’s just a preface to a latter tournament trophy-holding novel? Control the game despite the absence of Tyler Adams, John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Tim Weah, and possibly Weston McKennie.

Consider the make-up of both 23-man rosters. T&T has seven domestic players, three MLS players, seven USL Championship players, one USL League One player, one in Costa Rica, one in the Israeli Premier League, one playing in Saudi Arabia’s top tier and two in its second tier. The USMNT is comprised of MLS players plus Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Matt Miazga (Chelsea), Tim Ream (Fulham), and Tyler Boyd (Vitória de Guimarães)

Not to mention Panama outshot T&T 16-4 in a 2-0 win the other night, about the same as the U.S. advantage (20-4; 4-0) over Guyana.

Handle their A-team with your B-plus team.

Take that knowledge and then consider this: As the USSF prepares to anoint a new CEO who may well be hand-picked by the old CEO, reportedly not supported by the new president, and happens to be the USMNT head coach’s brother, wouldn’t it be cool if things felt just a bit like they were on the right track.

The U-20 World Cup helped, as has watching McKennie, Pulisic, and Adams blossom in the Bundesliga.

But we’re mere rounds away from, if we’re fortunate, seeing the first edition of Berhalter’s USMNT against Tata Martino’s Mexico (a Tata Martino, it must be noted, who the USSF didn’t feel the need to contact regarding the possibility of an interview). And we’re days away from a game against a Panama team who took a World Cup spot by scoring a ghost goal.

The losses against Jamaica’s B-team and Venezuela in a vacuum are just bad days at the office, but something fundamentally changed in the spirit of U.S. Soccer that night in Couva. The over-achieving teams of (a few of the) World Cups past gave way to what appeared to be an entitled coach and players failing to prove wrong the wandering mind of a German legend who helped put them in their predicament.

For at least this one night, it’d be great to feel that Couva not only mattered but that it’s put a chip on the shoulder of everyone in U.S. Soccer.

Win decisively, fellas.