Teenage star flames in two objectives as an otherwise inconsistent United States devoted a necessary boost to their World Cup qualifying hopes
If a win can ever feel worrying, 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 will surely exploit.
If the Hexagonal groups bottom team was capable of exposing 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 attitude 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 objective that more experienced team-mates lacked.
Hes having fun, Bruce Arena said, calling him an extraordinary talent. He added: I just think hes a natural for the game, he insures the game very well and has good instincts on getting in good spots, especially his running off the balls exceptional.
Arena said he felt frustrated at half period with 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 to see this time.
Dennis Lawrence, the T& T head coach, felt his charges were unfortunate. Individual errors is likely what cost us, he said. I felt all-in-all the boys likely didnt deserve that.
While any squad can miss a multitude of chances, it was the number of good opportunities afforded to the away side that should be most worrisome ahead of the journey to Mexico City. And, curiously, Arenas humen had some of their worst defensive moments when resulting 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 infringe indicates 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 stance 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 phases against T& T was virtually essential both to lessen the risk of missing the top three spots and facing a playoff against an Asian side, and to avoid being been hit by self-doubt ahead of the most severe fixture of the campaign.
With few trauma problems to worry about, Arena picked what was like a strong and solid, low-risk line-up. John Brooks, who came off with a leg injury in the unedifying spectacle 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 one-third of the pitch. With Clint Dempsey also inclined to stray 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 detected space on the edge of the region to unfurl a dip shooting that narrowly cleared the bar. The Seattle Sounders forward was chasing his 57 th international strike, a number that would tie him with Landon Donovan at the top of the all-time US scoring chart. Not this time: he was substituted 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 operated down the left and lashed over. Amid the American pressure the visitors enjoyed a surprising sum 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 stimulate five saves in the first half, the sides were level at the break.
American nervousness were soothed after 52 minutes with the opening aim. DeAndre Yedlin intersected low and Pulisic operating outside the region 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 team 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 occur he was set clear on the right of the area and calmly slotted past the goalkeeper at his near post to make the game safe, though not exactly comfy. While Arena did not get the assertive and cohesive squad display he no doubt craved before Sunday, at least he was able to 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 into that game, he said with a nonchalant shrug. Were going to come out with a win there too.
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