Christian Pulisic rescued the United States with a pair of second-half goals, and the Americans beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 on Thursday night to move into third place at the halfway point in the final round of World Cup qualifying.
Pulisic, an 18-year-old phenom from Hershey, Pennsylvania, ended a frustrating start for the U.S. offense with a goal in the 52nd minute, then added another in the 62nd.
“It just took us a little while to get going,” Pulisic said.
Pulisic made his international debut 15 months ago and has seven goals and five assists in 15 appearances, including four goals and three assists in his last four contests.
“He’s having fun,” U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. “He’s a natural for the game. He sees the game very well.”
After crashing to an 0-2 start in the hexagonal of the North and Central American and Caribbean region, the U.S. is back among the top three, which earn berths at next year’s tournament in Russia. Mexico leads with 10 points, followed by Costa Rica, which has seven and is ahead of the U.S. on goal difference. Panama (five), Honduras (four) and Trinidad (three) trail.
The fourth-place team advances to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.
In late games, Costa Rica hosted Panama and Mexico was home against Honduras.
The Americans have three wins and three draws since Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann as coach in November. The team’s biggest test in Arena’s second stint comes Sunday at Mexico.
“It’s going to be a tough one down there,” Pulisic said.
Kenwyne Jones nearly put the Soca Warriors in the 33rd minute, beating goalkeeper Tim Howard to a cross but putting a header off the crossbar. Clint Dempsey John Brooks and Jozy Altidore all had good chances, but T&T keeper Jan-Michael Williams made several sprawling saves.
After helping Borussia Dortmund win last month’s German Cup final, becoming the youngest American to earn a medal for a European club, Pulisic had another breakthrough moment with his second two-goal game for the U.S.
Michael Bradley forced a turnover, DeAndre Yedlin recovered the ball and passed to Darlington Nagbe, who went around a defender and dribbled upfield. He passed to Clint Dempsey, who sent the ball back wide to Yedlin. He crossed to Pulisic, who slid and scored from 4 yards with his left foot, then sprinted for a corner and slid on both knees to celebrate.
Trinidad’s Nathan Lewis beat Howard off the ensuing kickoff, but Yedlin had stepped up, causing an offside call that disallowed the goal.
Pulisic started the run that led to the second goal, passing to Yedlin, who sent the ball to Altidore, Pulisic burst past Kavan George and slotted in a right-footed shot from about 10 yards to Williams’ short side.
“He’s a fantastic player,” Trinidad coach Dennis Lawrence said.”
Bobby Wood nearly got a third goal, hitting a post shortly after replacing Altidore in the 83rd.
The U.S. is unbeaten against Trinidad in home qualifiers, winning nine matches and drawing one and outscoring the Soca Warriors 21-2 — including 17 in a row since 1989.
The game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is at about 5,200 feet, which will prepare the Americans for Sunday night’s qualifier at Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, which is around 7,820 feet above sea level.
This time, there was no need for snow shovels in Denver. The weather was partly cloudy and 82 degrees, a contrast for the Snow Classico in March 2013, a 1-0 win over Costa Rica.