Teenage star flames in two aims as an otherwise inconsistent United States devoted a necessary boost to their World Cup qualifying hopes
If a win can ever feeling fret, this may be the one.
Victory was crucial for the USs prospects of automatic qualification for next years World Cup finals and duly obtained. Key job, done. But there was a certain slackness to the Americans that a superior side say, Mexico is certainly exploit.
If the Hexagonal groups bottom team was capable of uncovering vulnerabilities in the Americans back line and midfield here in the Denver suburbs on Thursday, what might Mexico do to the US at home on Sunday?
A draw in Mexico would be an impressive result for the US in almost any conceivable context; on this evidence, thats surely the right stance to take into the fixture. No reason for hopes to be set too high.
Christian Pulisic was the hero – a sentence likely to become a well-worn sentiment in the months and years ahead. Ruthless and alert, the 18 -year-old scored twice and provided a coolness in front of aim that more experienced team-mates lacked.
Hes having fun, Bruce Arena said, calling him an exceptional talent. He added: I just think hes a natural for the game, he find the game very well and has good instincts on getting in good places, especially his running off the balls exceptional.
Arena said he felt frustrated at half day given the lack of sharpness at both ends, but overall pronounced himself content. We played a solid 90 minutes, he said. Weve started off 2017 in pretty good shape so Im pleased at this time.
Dennis Lawrence, the T& T head coach, felt his charges were unfortunate. Individual faults is probably what expensed us, he said. I felt all-in-all the boys probably didnt deserve that.
While any team can miss a multitude of opportunities, it was the number of good opportunities afforded to the away side that should be most worrisome ahead of the trip-up to Mexico City. And, curiously, Arenas men had some of their worst defensive moments when leading 2-0 in the latter stages against a Trinidad& Tobago team that ought to have been demoralized and feeling the effects of the thin Colorado air.
Even if the US camp insisted in the build-up that the focus was squarely on this match, the structure of their international breaking demonstrated how seriously they are taking the journey to the Azteca. Like mountaineers heading to the pinnacle, the Americans played to a 1-1 draw in a friendly against Venezuela in Utah last Saturday; this stadium is 700ft higher, at 5,200 ft; the Azteca is at 7,200 ft.
But the biggest altitude problem ahead of the game was the low position of the US in the stands: out of the rarefied air of the places ensuring automatic qualification for next years tournament in Russia and six points adrift of Mexico at the summit.
Three points against T& T was virtually essential both to mitigate health risks of missing the top three spots and facing a playoff against an Asian side, and to avoid being struck by self-doubt ahead of the toughest fixture of the campaign.
With few trauma problems to worry about, Arena picked what looked like a strong and solid, low-risk line-up. John Brooks, who came off with a leg injury in the unedifying sight against Venezuela, returned to partner Geoff Cameron in central defense but did not convince.
Pulisic, the teams most exciting player, had license to wander across the final third of the pitch. With Clint Dempsey also inclined to wander in search of the ball, it was important for the teams shape that Jozy Altidore was a more robust and predictable spearhead up front.
The first chance of note came in the 15 th minute as Dempsey received space on the edge of the region to unfurl a dipping shoot that narrowly cleared the bar. The Seattle Sounders forward was chasing his 57 th international ten-strike, a number that would tie him with Landon Donovan at the upper part of the all-time US scoring chart. Not this time: he was replaced in the second half. Arena said he understood why Dempsey was visibly irked to be removed. Hes got a really competitive edge to him, he said.
After 25 minutes, Brooks tested Jan-Michael Williams from distance, and the T& T goalkeeper was called upon again seconds later to deny Altidore. Pulisic then ran down the left and lashed over. Amid the American pressure the visitors enjoyed a surprising quantity of room on their left wing, though fashioned little when close to Tim Howards net.
Until the 32 nd minute, that is, when Kenwyne Jones squandered an outstanding chance to head the visitors into the lead. With Howard flailing, the Atlanta United and former Sunderland striker one of four MLS-attached players in the T& T starting XI nodded the ball against the bar. Though Williams had to build five saves in the first half, the sides were level at the break.
American anxieties were soothed after 52 minutes with the opening objective. DeAndre Yedlin intersected low and Pulisic operating outside the area for so much of this match appeared inside the six-yard box, as if teleported, to slide the ball beyond Williams. Yet, in another sign that the home squad was prone to lapsings in concentration, T& T had the ball in Howards net almost immediately after the restart, but it was correctly ruled offside.
Two minutes after the hour, Pulisic finished a move that he started. Thanks to some incisive passing he was set clear on the right of the area and calmly slotted past the goalkeeper at his near post to induce video games safe, though not exactly comfy. While Arena did not get the assertive and cohesive squad showing he no doubt craved before Sunday, at least he could once again savor a fine performance from the teenager.
Fast graduating from starlet into star, the Borussia Dortmund tyro is not short of self-belief. Its gonna be a tough one down there in Mexico especially, but we really want some retaliation on them[ for their win last November ], Pulisic told FS1 post-match. So were really confident going to get that game, he said with a nonchalant shrug. Were going to come out with a win there too.
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