Altidore's three goals lead strong U.S. effort in win over T&T.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, April 2, 2009) -- Coming off a disturbing sub-par performance, the United States men put together a strong effort to bury Trinidad and Tobago, a clearly inferior opponent 3-0 behind three goals by striker Jozy Altidore in a CONCACAF Final Round World Cup Qualifier before a good sized crowd of 27,959 at LP Field in Nashville last night.
Altidore was set up for each goal by brilliant passes from midfielder Landon Donovan. All in all, it was a dismal performance by the outclassed Trinidadians, who were lucky to only lose by three goals.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley made a number of changes from Saturday's 2-2 draw in El Salvador in which Altidore started a late comeback from a two-goal deficit with a tally. Bradley used four different players in the starting lineup as well as altering his formation.
Tim Howard, after serving a one match suspension was back in goal. Veteran Pablo Mastroeni was inserted in the defensive midfield role, while Altidore got the opportunity to start. Oguchi Onyewu, who missed the El Salvador match with a tender knee, was back in the central defense.
Formation wise, the U.S. played with two strikers -- Altidore and Brian Ching. Donovan played wide left in the midfield, which was not all that big a change because even when he starts nominally at forward, he tends to drift back and wide. Michael Bradley was pushed more forward in the middle of the midfield with Mastroeni providing more solid protection behind him.
The big change was moving DaMarcus Beasley from left midfield to back. From time to time in training over the last year, he has tried out this role, but this was the first time in an actual match. In reality, he was there to push forward with Donovan in front of him and he spent much of the evening playing as a midfielder.
With Hejduk moving aggressively forward on the right flank, the Americans essentially used two defenders on numerous occasions with Mastroeni providing cover. It worked well against the woeful Trinidadians, who managed only a single shot on goal all night.
T&T's Colombian coach Francisco Maturana also tried to make a big change. When the Warriors last played on U.S. soil, a 3-1 loss in September at Toyota Field in the Chicago area in the last round of qualifying, Maturana had his team go into a tight defensive shell from the opening whistle. The Americans eventually broke T&T down and went on to win.
Tonight, Maturana had his team on the attack from the start, but without much effect. The U.S. was easily able to absorb the pressure and gave T&T few openings. In attacking, the Trinidadians gave the Americans space all over the field, especially in the midfield, and the open territory allowed the U.S. to dominate over the entire 90 minutes, except for a few minutes in the second half when the visitors were dangerous for the only time in the match.
With both Altidore and Ching playing high and together, the T&T defense could not concentrate on either and Altidore was the main beneficiary, often finding himself in open space and on the receiving end of some wonderful passes, often from Donovan. He was able to convert three of these quality chances and could easily have scored three more goals.
"Full credit to the players," Bob Bradley said. "After the last match, we were certainly pleased with the push we made when we were behind, but there were things in that match that we felt were not indicative of what we're all about. The players felt strongly about that and I think you could see the response from the team from the beginning tonight."
So the U.S. is off until June and sits atop the final-round standings at 2-0-1 with seven points, one point ahead of Costa Rica (2-1), which had a narrow 1-0 decision over visiting El Salvador last night. The Americans will face Costa Rica June 3 in San Jose, Costa Rica. Mexico's 3-1 loss in Honduras dropped it to fourth place at 1-2 with three points, one point behind Honduras (1-1-1). T&T and El Salvador are 0-2-1 with one point.
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 5.5: Started out a bit tentatively, but settled in and did everything asked of him.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley - 6: Played more as a midfielder then a defender, but did manage some good defensive work. Certainly a better performance than last time out and he showed he can play the position at least in situations where there is little offensive pressure by an opponent.
Defender Frankie Hejduk - 7: Another terrific match. He was good defensively, several times racing back for clearing tackles. He pushed far forward often and was a key man on the attack. His crossing at times was a bit lacking.
Defender Oguchi Onyewu - 6.5: Wearing a knee brace, he gave up a bit of pace, but handled the tall and physical Kenwyne Jones well.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 6: With Onyewu back in the middle he had a partner he could trust and was able to do considerably more with confidence. Covered well on the left flank when Beasley pushed forward.
Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni - 6: With both outside backs pushing forward, he provided the defensive coverage that was required. A solid performance.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 5.5: In a more offensive role tonight, he had a bit of an up-and-down performance. Made few errors and worked hard, and was still running at the end. Made an offensive play key to the third goal.
Midfielder Landon Donovan - 7.5: Seemed to really push himself into a 90-minute effort. Was brilliant at times and provided assists on all three goals, the last of which he could easily have scored himself. Was a key player tonight.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 5: A gritty, hard-working performance, but at times he was less then effective. As against El Salvador, he was called on for quite a bit of defensive work. Along with Bradley, he has become the digger in the midfield.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 8: Gets high marks not just for the hat trick, but constantly getting himself into dangerous positions. At times, he wasted efforts with some poor finishing, but in the end took his goals well. This appeared to be a breakthrough performance.
Forward Brian Ching - 6: With Altidore taking the pressure off him, he was able to roam more widely and was effective holding and distributing the ball. He seemed to tire as the second half wore on.
Midfielder Josť Francisco Torres (81st minute for Ching) - 6: He came into the midfield and really did not have enough time to fully settle in. Did a few good things and little wrong.
Midfielder Sacha Kljestan (84th minute for Dempsey) - 6: Only a short appearance, but was steadier than on Saturday against El Salvador. On a couple of occasions, he held the ball well and distributed it nicely.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Jozy Altidore.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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