The USA overcame their dire recent road qualifying history, eking out a 1-0 win against Trinidad and Tobago to snatch three points in World Cup qualifying Wednesday night in Port-of-Spain.
Ricardo Clark’s goal in the 62nd minute was the difference in an unattractive, average match that saw the Americans once again struggle in the early going. The win was the first for the USA on the road in this final phase of qualifying and put the Americans in control of their own destiny.
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Two matches remain on the schedule — a tough road match against Honduras on October 10 and the home final on the 14th against Costa Rica at RFK Stadium. Both matches loomed as critical tests before tonight’s match kicked off — now they are merely games that have to be played, not necessarily won.
Clark’s goal — a long-range missile set up by Landon Donovan that bent past ‘keeper Clayton Ince — was a rare moment of grace in an otherwise ugly, formless match.
By now, American fans are familiar with the script. Landon Donovan is the player of the game, and as he goes, so do the Yanks. Tim Howard makes some big stops while begging his defenders to actually defend. And somewhere along the way, the team decides it’s better to just lob the ball down the field and pray (usually this happens in the fifth minute).
Tonight, the Americans played with a lack of inspiration so palpable that for a good hour the last-placed Soca Warriors surely felt like they were not only in the game, but could win it.
And T&T surely had their chances. Cornell Glen was unlucky not to score in the 28th when the Americans took a short nap while Trinidad took a throw-in. Glen’s looper beat Howard well but ricocheted off the crossbar, to be cleared.
Glen probably should have gotten a penalty for his troubles five minutes later when the forward was poleaxed in the area by Jonathan Spector, who was in the weeds much of the night. And Carlos Edwards, easily the most dynamic player on the field for either team, tested the Americans repeatedly.
But the most spectacular save came when Howard was forced to stop a rocket from Trent Noel after the Americans conceded a dreadful freekick. His swerving shot was well-saved by Howard at full stretch.
Donovan began the clawback with his own attempt in first-half stoppage time that Ince cleared with his leg. And after the break the Americans looked a bit more settled, if not more productive. In fact, Clark’s goal came just as manager Bob Bradley was preparing to yank the midfielder for Houston teammate Stuart Holden.
If anything, T&T, which is struggling to rebuild under player/coach Russell Latapy, just plain ran out of gas. The Americans rarely gained any width, and were the beneficiaries of a number of let-offs.
Jonathan Bornstein had a another miserable night out wide after he was inexplicably started for the second successive game. His weakness unbalanced the entire back line with Carlos Bocanegra frequently called in to bail, and Spector forced inside to cover for his captain.
As a result, Howard was rarely able to use his wingbacks to spark any offense. Neither Spector or Bornstein contributed any crosses of worth on the night.
And the midfield remains erratic. Michael Bradley, the coach’s son, has been poor when asked to roam. Paired with Clark, he is unable to do what he does best, which is help out on defense. Paired with sub Benny Feilhaber, he seems more settled.
Donovan, unfortunately, is forced to do the job Bradley is supposed to, which is hold the ball and distribute it. Moreover, Donovan seems to be the only man who wants that job, and yet he also must spark the offense and bail out his defense.
Donovan got little help from Clint Dempsey, who turned in a stunningly awful first half performance. To be fair, he is ill-suited to the role Bob Bradley usually places him in, and when the run of play goes away from him, he is unable to do what he does best, which is create. Moved up front, he is a far more potent offensive weapon, and seems to be more comfortable in knowing that the messes are largely behind him.
When Dempsey was allowed some room in the second half, one sees what can happen. It was his touch that cleared the space for Clark’s goal, and his pass that set up Donovan’s pass. Yet he also made a show of skulking about tonight that will not endear him to his coach or his fans, who know he is capable of better.
Trinidad-Tob. vs. USA
Shots on goal
Up top, where Charlie Davies and Jozy Altidore are finally developing a partnership, things were a bit shakier. Everyone has off nights, but Altidore has had two in a row. Davies, who has such speed, was unable to really put a stamp on the proceedings either, despite showing some good flashes.
In summary, once more the USA too often looked bereft of ideas, and once more communication and shape seemed wanting.
But all that matters is the result at the end of the game, and over the past two matches, the USA have taken six big points. Since artistic merit doesn’t count, the USA and its fans can go home happy.
But this team has a lot of work to do if it wants to compete at the top level. Tonight, they showed they can gut out a win. But they didn’t show they can really play well enough to dominate a team that is far below what they will face next summer in South Africa.
And that should worry folks.
Jamie Trecker’s newest book, “Love and Blood: At the World Cup with the Footballers, Fans and Freaks” is out now from Harcourt. Jamie is assisted by Jerry and Janice Trecker. Contact Jamie at firstname.lastname@example.org visit his blog and website at www.jamietrecker.com.
The views and opinions expressed by Jamie Trecker do not necessarily reflect those of the Fox Soccer Channel or FoxSoccer.com.