2018 World Cup Qualifying, Featured, June 2017, USMNT

Live from Denver: Three For US, Two For Pulisic

Daniel Seco

Greetings from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park where an electric crowd bore witness to a United States squad focused squarely on the task at hand – a worthy challenge from a well-prepared Trinidad & Tobago – and not looking ahead to Sunday’s match at Azteca. Led by a start-to-finish effort from the defense in concert with Tim Howard dialing back the clock to the days of yesteryear, the Yanks relied on the 18-year-old foot of Christian Pulisic for two goals in the second half of the US’s 2-0 victory. Pulisic, with a final 45 for the ages, benefited from inspired play by DeAndre Yedlin, who set an aggressive tone for himself early, and was rewarded with an assist on Wonder Boy’s first goal of the evening.

The dynamic duo of John Brooks, feeling no effects of a bruised quad, and Geoff Cameron kept the United States in the hunt for three points every time it appeared a goal from Trinidad & Tobago was imminent. Brooks, questionable leading up to the match, stayed involved on both sides of the pitch – taking a viable shot on goal in the first half and neutralizing a sure-fire T&T attack in the second. Cameron, for his efforts, was greeted with praise from Howard every time he aided in redirecting the onslaught of Soca Warriors away from goal.

It was a tale of two halves for the U.S. MNT as Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey failed to capitalize on multiple scoring opportunities most notably strung together by Darlington Nagbe and Jorge Villafaña. While Altidore would later redeem himself by assisting Pulisic on the second of his two goals, Dempsey found himself heading to the bench in the 61st minute after his lackluster play continued past halftime. Any hopes of Dempsey matching Landon Donovan’s U.S. MNT record for goals were muted early on when two errant passes signaled a sign of things to come for the Sounders forward.

“He’s a guy with a lot of confidence and wants to be on the field,” said Bruce Arena in response to the words Dempsey exchanged with him after coming off the pitch. “But my job is to do what’s best to position the team to win.”

Dempsey wasn’t the only player to experience middling results against Trinidad & Tobago as Fabian Johnson continued to befuddle Arena with another performance on par with his efforts against Venezuela. To his credit, Johnson set Dempsey up for a look that could have put the Yanks on the board, but the talented winger failed to capitalize on a well-placed cross by Villafaña early in the first half. Luckily for Bruce Arena, Johnson’s counterpoint across the pitch served as a catalyst for much of the United States’ offensive attack throughout the match. The quality of Nagbe’s play did not go unnoticed by Arena, who was quick to sing the midfielder’s praises.

“I think he’s an exceptional player,” said Arena. “I tell him to be a little bit more selfish. Part of our plan was to give him more opportunities one-on-one.”

As the Yanks shift their attention to Sunday’s match against Mexico, expect Arena to explore a series of lineup changes in hopes of building around the successes enjoyed by the likes of Pulisic, Nagbe, and Yedlin.

Kellyn Acosta, who came on early in the second half, should warrant a further look by Arena after making steady contributions this evening. Replacing Dempsey with Bobby Wood in the starting lineup may cost the United States a veteran presence on the pitch, but Arena’s already empowering Pulisic to take on a leadership role beyond goal scorer-in-chief.

“He’s young,” said Arena of his budding star. “I gave him responsibility to take free kicks and corners. If I get fired because he can’t hit free kicks and corners, I’m OK with that.”

Tonight’s outcome should not be diminished as merely a win over a lesser opponent, but rather the requisite confidence builder that has the Yanks thinking points come Sunday. Victory in Commerce City has afforded Arena a modicum of breathing room, all altitude jokes aside, heading into the weekend. Let’s see how that factors into his strategy against El Tri in what will serve as an opportunity for the United States to further the momentum of Thursday’s strong showing.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome below.

Daniel Seco is the publisher for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached via email at dan@yanksarecoming.com or on Twitter at @danieljseco.