Job done. By him. Of course.
Christian Pulisic, the flabbergasting 18-year-old American prodigy, added to his early-career lore by scoring twice against Trinidad and Tobago in a crucial 2-0 win in World Cup qualifying in Denver, Colo. The points solidified the Yanks’ once-tenuous position after a disastrous start to the final round of qualifiers for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Through five of 10 games, Bruce Arena’s team now has a 2-2-1 record with the dreaded away game at Mexico’s Estadio Azteca awaiting on Sunday. The U.S. started the night in fourth place but will likely climb a spot after the other games conclude later in the night. The top three of six teams qualify for Russia automatically. The fourth will enter a playoff with the fifth-place finisher in Asia.
Yet much of what was ultimately a convincing-looking victory over last-placed Trinidad and Tobago was actually frustrating.
Ever so slowly, the Americans dialed up the pressure on their guests and grew increasingly dominant, wresting control and possession midway through the first half. But the first act was one of building aggravation.
Because the Americans had chances aplenty but, for a long time, no goals to show for it. Fabian Johnson set up Clint Dempsey at the edge of the box, but the veteran forward curled his shot just over. Trinidadian goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams then parried long but hard shots from John Brooks and then Jozy Altidore, both of which were filled with venom but also right at him. Pulisic had a look on the break, but his shot zipped just over.
A Jorge Villafana long shot pulled Williams from his goal. Dempsey won the ball though, and the Americans eventually worked it to Altidore. But Williams scurried back in time to save his header. Altidore then got another header off a Darlington Nagbe cross, but couldn’t get it down on the frame. Pulisic had a volley from close range, but it was deflected wide.
On and on it went, the ball stubbornly staying out of the net.
Yet the Americans were fortunate as well. Before half-time, Trinidad got far too many headers on crosses, requiring some deft line-work by Tim Howard. Earlier on, he’d been spared when Kenwyne Jones easily ran away from Brooks, with Howard nowhere in sight, and nodded the wide-open header from a cross off the bar.
The pace was too ponderous, the sharpness in the final third insufficient.
In the second half, the U.S. found some answers, mostly in the form of quick breaks instigated by the excellent Nagbe and Pulisic. But before Pulisic got his first goal, Nathan Lewis very nearly put the Soca Warriors ahead when he came within a hair of connecting with Kevin Molino’s cross in the goalmouth.
A minute later, in the 52nd, Nagbe did good preparatory work in building the attack before pulling back for DeAndre Yedlin. He drove in a low cross that the sliding Pulisic stabbed home.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 9, 2017
Quickly thereafter, Lewis had a goal disallowed. He was inches offside when he tapped in the cross — a big letup.
Pulisic came close to his second when he smashed a shot off the near post after some trickery in the box and another connection with Nagbe and Yedlin. He got it anyway in the 62nd minute. The teenager started the counterattack himself, got the ball back on the run via Yedlin and Altidore and beat Williams to his near post.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 9, 2017
– 4 goals
– 3 assists
– 1 foul drawn for a free-kick goal
— Paul Carr (@PCarrESPN) June 9, 2017
While T&T remained lively on crosses, substitute Bobby Wood nearly got the U.S. a third but smashed his finish off the bar late on. Since the two-goal lead held up, Arena could cycle out some of his key players, like Johnson, Altidore and Dempsey — who was dismayed by his substitution.
After all, there is a Mexico game to worry about that kicks off less than 72 hours after the final whistle of Thursday’s win. And El Tri won’t be so forgiving of missed opportunities as an ultimately feckless Trinidad and Tobago was.
“We’re going to come out with a win there too,” Pulisic told FOX Sports 1 after the game.
Because of course he did.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.