CLEVELAND — The Gold Cup matchup against Trinidad and Tobago carried heavy implications for the U.S. men’s national team. A win would secure advancement to the knockout round and avenge the loss from 2017 that denied the team a spot in the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The Soca Warriors looked to be a better side than Guyana, and would be the toughest opponent that new coach Gregg Berhalter had faced in a competitive game.
None of that fazed the USMNT, which answered the challenge with a 6-0 drubbing in both teams’ penultimate Group D match at FirstEnergy Stadium Saturday night.
The first half was not kind for the USMNT. Trinidad were the better team through a sloppy first 30 minutes. Still, Aaron Long put the US in front with his first international goal when the central defender headed in a Christian Pulisic cross in the 41st minute.
The floodgates opened in the final 30 minutes. Gyasi Zardes scored a tap-in goal after a cross from Nick Lima left him plenty of room in the 66th minute. Just three minutes later, Zardes found the back of the net again, this time with an amazing curling shot off another Pulisic assist. The goal was the 10th national team goal in Zardes’ career, making him the 24th person to score double-digit goals for the USMNT all time. It was his third goal of the tournament, currently tied for the Golden Boot race.
“Our coaches kept reiterating that Trinidad is gonna die down in the second half, just to be patient, throughout the game to be patient,” Zardes said. “Sure enough, the 65th minute came around and we started to see great opportunities.”
Trinidad and Tobago were left speechless after conceding so many times in such a short span.
“How can a team be so good for the first 65 minutes, and so terrible for the last 25,” Trinidad coach Dennis Lawrence said. “After a game like tonight, you will see changes next game.”
Pulisic added a goal of his own in the 73rd minute. Paul Arriola made it 5-0 in the 78th minute to cap a span of four goals in 12 minutes and Long added his second goal in the 90th minute, chesting the ball in the net after Marvin Phillip made a save from distance. Long became the first USMNT defender ever to score two goals in a game.
Despite the bevy of goals, Berhalter didn’t want the defensive work to go overlooked.
“This is the best defensive work [Pulisic] has done so far,” he said. “Really good shape, good movement, and that was an emphasis before the game so it was good to see that being executed.”
The USMNT booked a quarterfinal berth and will meet Panama, which secured advancement earlier in the day with a 4-2 win over Guyana, for the top spot in Group D Wednesday at Children’s Mercy Park. How to rotate players for the game is a question for Berhalter.
“To be honest, I don’t have experience in that. This is the first time going through it, so we’re going to have to figure it out,” Berhalter said. “We know the tournament is a lot of games in a short period of time, so there is going to have to be some balancing…but it will be an interesting problem that we’re going to have to solve.”