Darlington Nagbe the conduit for U.S., Christian Pulisic the spark vs. T&T
In what was not literally a must-win game -- but had all the hallmarks of one -- the U.S. national team inched closer to Russia 2018 with a sometimes nervy but in the end comfortable 2-0 win over Trinidad & Tobago in Commerce City, Colorado.
After playing slow, ponderous soccer in the first half against a T&T team happy to sit behind the ball and wait them out, the U.S. responded with a much more energetic second half that pushed them on for the win. Christian Pulisic reinforced the consensus that he isn't just the team's future but its present. The two goals from the 18-year-old encouraged not just because of his finishing but because of the way the Americans created them.
With every expectation being that they would aggressively press T&T and make the Caribbean side uncomfortable to their own benefit, the U.S. came out with a surprisingly lackadaisical attitude and low energy approach. The Americans had possession but failed to turn it into anything truly dangerous. If not for a miss by Kenwyne Jones, the U.S. would have been chasing the game on home soil.
7 -- Bruce Arena rolled out the same lineup he played against Venezuela on Saturday, and it mostly paid off. The use of full-backs pressing high created good opportunities for the U.S. all night. Asked for more energy from his team coming out of the locker room at half-time and got it, though the slow start is also somewhat on his ledger. Used aggressive substitutions to help the Americans see the game out.
Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Tim Howard, 6 -- Made two saves. Beaten to the ball by Jones on the header that was kept out by the crossbar.
DF DeAndre Yedlin, 7 -- Strong night pushing up in the attack. Showed his improved defense, especially in one-on-one situations. A few moments of lost concentration the only marks against him.
DF Geoff Cameron, 7 -- Came out in the first half looking to take space and play the ball over the top.
DF John Brooks, 6.5 -- Competent but did lose Jones on T&T's best chance of the first half. Looked a step slow at times.
DF Jorge Villafana, 8.5 -- Best player on the field in the first half for the United States. Expertly handed positioning, including getting forward in the attack. Looked somewhat gassed in the second half.
MF Michael Bradley, 6 -- Had his questionable moments and played into the slow pace of the Americans in the first half. Picked up his pace in the second 45 and helped create the turnover that led to the first goal.
MF Christian Pulisic, 8.5 -- Another fantastic performance for the 18-year-old. Dealt with rough treatment from defenders but stayed in the game, eventually scoring both U.S. goals.
MF Darlington Nagbe, 7.5 -- The conduit for moving the ball from defense to attack more often than any other player.
MF Fabian Johnson, 5.5 -- Middling game for a player Arena was intent in catering to in terms of formation. Generally ineffective going forward. Turned the ball over in bad areas more than once.
FW Clint Dempsey, 6 -- Unhappy to come off after an hour. Very limited in his effectiveness. Never looked up to his usual sharpness. Dropped off to pick up the ball and stranded Jozy Altidore too often.
FW Jozy Altidore, 7.5 -- A tough-as-nails appearance for the team's best target forward. Often isolated, especially in the first half. Did the work necessary to create space. Played a perfect pass to Pulisic for the second goal.
MF Kellyn Acosta, 7 -- Passed smartly, covered ground, did exactly what was needed from a midfield player coming on with the game at 1-0.
MF Alejandro Bedoya, NR -- Looked off the pace of the game in his first few minutes, but settled in and was his usual trustworthy self.
FW Bobby Wood, NR -- Showed flashes of danger, including a shot off the post. Excellent option for Arena off the bench with Altidore fading.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.