Pulisic comes through with a brace as relieved U.S. tops Trinidad & Tobago
Three quick thoughts on the United States' 2-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Trinidad and Tobago at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado.
1. Relieved U.S. heads to Mexico on a high
It wasn't pretty, but the U.S. will travel to Mexico City with another three points in its pocket after downing Trinidad and Tobago 2-0, thanks to a pair of goals from Christian Pulisic.
This was an absolute must-win for the Yanks, and while at times it looked like it was in peril, the U.S. can take confidence in overcoming a shaky performance as it turns its attention to El Tricolor.
Getting a result in Azteca Stadium will require a herculean effort. The poor U.S. history south of the border -- just two draws in 14 qualifiers -- is evidence enough. But the lack of pressure on the U.S. to get a win in Mexico could be just the thing that inspires the Americans. Essentially, any result in the Azteca is gravy, thanks to Thursday's victory.
Setting aside the Mexico game, the U.S. is in a good position to close the Hexagonal with enough points to reach Russia 2018. Costa Rica at home and Honduras away are on the docket for September, while Panama are due to visit in October, followed by a final matchday trip to Trinidad.
One has to think there are at the very least seven points out of those last 12, namely the three that would come in the home date with Panama, which is starting to shape up as the U.S.'s direct rival for the third and final spot.
But for now, the U.S. has a chance to do something special down south, which it should fully embrace, knowing there is some margin for error.
2. Pulisic comes through again -- with some help
Pulisic continues to amaze with another two goals for a player who defies his 18 years. But make no mistake: Pulisic had some help to get there.
Darlington Nagbe was terrific on Thursday night, and for a while, he was the only U.S. player willing to go one-on-one against the Trinidad defense. It was Nagbe who crafted the U.S. opener that allowed coach Bruce Arena to breathe a huge sigh of relief.
The Portland Timbers man played a nifty one-two combination with Clint Dempsey, then beat a defender one-on-one before laying off for DeAndre Yedlin, whose cross found the cutting Pulisic. It was exactly the type of assertiveness that the U.S. was sorely lacking in the first half.
Credit should also be given to the U.S. full-backs. Yedlin was a menace, while Jorge Villafana also enjoyed another solid outing. A tip of the cap also is in order for Jozy Altidore. The Toronto FC striker was misfiring when presented with a chance to score, but he could not have weighted his pass any better on the second Pulisic goal. Altidore's passing is an underrated feature of his game, and fortunately for the U.S., it was on display.
But Pulisic will earn the plaudits and deservedly so. He was not getting the touches that he would have liked in the first half, but he was far more effective in the second half, and U.S. fans can only hope he gets a similar crack at goal in the Azteca.
3. Sluggish starts still a worry
It was deju vu all over again for the U.S. in the first half. Like in Saturday's 1-1 draw versus Venezuela, the U.S. came out very slowly, lacking any type of urgency and tempo. The U.S. was sitting in and allowing Trinidad to possess without the islanders having to feel any pressure.
And when there was a chance for the U.S. moving forward, there weren't enough red jerseys in the box to get on the end of a cross. Once the U.S. did finally kick into gear, either Trinidad goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams or a simple lack of finishing denied the home side.
The failure of the U.S. defense to adequately close down spaces also was worrisome. Trinidad's Khaleem Hyland was afforded plenty of room to roam in midfield, and the Soca Warriors pinpointed the U.S. weakness of dealing with crosses.
One such ball into the U.S. area should have put the guests ahead, as John Brooks was beaten badly by Kenwyne Jones, who smacked a header off the crossbar. Another inch or two and the Atlanta United man's shot would have been in the back of the net.
Mexico's attacking forces likely won't be as forgiving come Sunday.
Arch Bell is based in Austin, Texas and covers CONCACAF for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @ArchBell .