JACKSONVILLE, FL — Jozy Altidore really likes playing at EverBank Field.
Fast forward two years later, in a World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago, Altidore captured yet another second-half brace to help lead the United States to a 4-0 victory, propelling the Americans to finish atop Group C, securing their spot in the Hex this November.
"We knew it was going to be a little bit of a grind in the first half. They can play, and they showed that," USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after the match. "I think it broke their nerve with Sacha's [Kljestan's] goal right before halftime, and the way they executed things in the second half was a joy to see. First in the group, our goal is achieved, and now we're looking forward to an exciting November game."
The win also improves the United States’ record to 5-0-1 all-time in Jacksonville
Both sides came out fairly even through the first 20 minutes, with the edge going to the United States, which had put up a couple of dangerous chances.
Christian Pulisic one of the biggest stories in this match, got the starting nod from Klinsmann to become the youngest American to start a World Cup qualifier for the United States (breaking Jozy Altidore’s record set in 2008, when he was 18 years old). Pulisic made the most of the opportunity as a big part of the USMNT’s attack, finishing with five shots and an assist on Altidore’s second goal. He was one of the best players in this game for either side — and he’s still only 17.
"As we've said, one step at a time, and the right step was today," Klinsmann said about his decision to start Pulisic. "Obviously, the performance was wonderful for us. I don't want to give him too many compliments, we've got to keep him on the ground."
Pulisic produced the first shot of the game for the Americans in the ninth minute. The Borussia Dortmund product brought in a pass from Sacha Kljestan on the wing before cutting inside to rip a shot on goal that was knocked away by Trinidad goalkeeper Marvin Phillip. Nine minutes later, it was Kljestan with the ball at his feet in the middle of the box off a Geoff Cameron throw-in, sending the shot sailing towards the St. John’s River, just south of the stadium.
An unlucky break kept Pulisic from putting the United States up 31st minute, going double-post from the receiving end of a low Altidore cross in front of goal. His blast hit the left post and caromed across to bounce off the right and out without crossing the goal line. The young American was again denied a goal from close-range late in the second half by Phillip.
Kljestan finally broke the Americans through in the 44th minute, when Khaleem Hyland's clearance attempt went straight into the New York Red Bulls midfielder's chest just a few yards away. Kljestan quickly gathered it and tucked it home to put the USMNT up 1-0 just before the half.
Orlando City midfielder Kevin Molino and the Soca Warriors started pressing the issue shortly after the break. But it was about midway through the final 45 minutes that the United States began to pull away from Trinidad, with all three second-half goals coming roughly 12 minutes apart. Altidore added his two in the 59th and 62 minutes. The first was set up by a perfectly placed ground pass across the field to Jozy by Fabian Johnson. Altidore used his body to shield off the defender, turn, and get a shot off to beat Phillip.
His second came off a perfect cross from Pulisic from the left, as the Toronto striker lurked at the back post and pounced when the pass flashed across the front of goal.
With his two-goal performance against Trinidad & Tobago, Altidore is now the USMNT’s leader in World Cup qualifier goals with 16, surpassing Clint Dempsey, who has the second most with 14.
"I love playing in Florida. It's my hometown state for me, so it was nice to get out here again and score some goals," said Altidore, who has scored four goals in his last two games in Jacksonville.
Paul Arriola come on the for the United States in the 66th minute and officially sealed the game with his second national team goal in just his second appearance, collecting the rebound from Pulisic’s close-range effort that was stopped by Phillip and slipping it home to make it a 4-0 game.
As a reward for winning their group, the United States will start the Hex at home against Mexico on Nov. 11 before hitting the road to face Costa Rico four days later.
As for Kevin Molino and his countrymen, well, they also qualified for the Hex by finishing second in Group C.