The U.S. men’s national team needed 82 minutes to break through, but once they finally found the back of the net the goals poured out from there as the U.S. secured a crucial 3-0 home win over Trinidad and Tobago on Thursday night in the CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinals.
That it took that long to score a goal was indicative of a frustrating night for the U.S., which struggled to break down Trinidad’s low block despite playing with a man advantage for nearly an hour. Finally, a cross from Antonee Robinson was flicked in at the near post by Ricardo Pepi right on the 82nd minute mark to give the U.S. a one-goal lead.
EL TREN ROLLING THROUGH TEXAS 🚂🚂🚂 pic.twitter.com/QbE8eSjUgD
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That opened Trinidad up a bit and the U.S. continued to push for more goals. Robinson hit a screamer in the 86th minute to double the advantage, and Reyna added a third on a combination with Balogun in the 89th.
The win was especially important not just because it gave the U.S. a three-goal lead going into Monday’s away leg in Port of Spain, Trinidad, but it also put the U.S. a bit closer to qualifying for next summer’s Copa America.
The U.S. dominated possession throughout the game even before the red card as T&T sat deep in its own half and defended out of a low block. Trinidad’s Noah Powder picked up his second yellow card for a reckless tackle from behind on Weston McKennie in the 37th minute, and that only pushed Trinidad into a more defensive posture.
Despite the man advantage, the U.S. managed no shots on goal in the first half. The first effort on target didn’t come until the 54th minute — a weak header from Malik Tillman — and while the U.S. put far more pressure on the goal in the second half it looked like Trinidad might pull off a shocking nil-nil draw.
Finally, though, Pepi found the back of the net and the U.S. was able to take a deep breath. The two goals that followed also eased the job for the visit to Trinidad on Monday, which will be the first time the U.S. is back in the country where their World Cup dreams ended in 2017.
The U.S. played too slowly at times against T&T’s low block, recycling the ball around the top of the box looking for the perfect entry into the box and allowing Trinidad to shift and keep good defensive shape too often. When the U.S. started to push faster later in the second half and pepper Trinidad’s goal with shots and headers, it started to feel like a goal was coming.
This U.S. team is going to have to find ways to score without doing so in transition — it’s an issue that has existed going back to the last cycle.
Who stood out?
Playing without stars Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah on the wings, it was an opportunity for players like Kevin Paredes, Malik Tillman and Brenden Aaronson to make an impression. Paredes got his first start with the U.S. and had some good moments in the first half, and Aaronson definitely made an impact when he entered the game in the second half. Tillman left more to be desired, frankly, though he was not alone among the U.S. players who could have been better against Trinidad’s low block.
Pepi’s goal was his seventh of 2023 and his fifth off the bench, the most ever by a USMNT player in a calendar year. The 20-year-old continues to impress after the disappointment of missing out on the 2022 World Cup and his goal tonight was a crucial one.
The U.S. will play Trinidad and Tobago on Monday in the away leg, and Thursday’s 3-0 win gave them plenty of breathing room to qualify for the Nations League semifinal and the Copa America. A win or draw sees them through, and a goal in Port of Spain would be plenty considering the current three-goal advantage — away goals are a tiebreaker.
(Photo: John Dorton/ISI Photos/USSF/Getty Images for USSF)