Americans Get It Right at Home, Cruise in Qualifier

Trinidad and Tobago's Keyeno Thomas, left, collides with U.S. forward Brian Ching.
Trinidad and Tobago's Keyeno Thomas, left, collides with U.S. forward Brian Ching. (By Brian Kersey -- Getty Images)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 11, 2008

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill., Sept. 10 -- In the third game of this World Cup qualifying stage, the U.S. men's national soccer team did not encounter a particularly aggressive opponent or have to play in an emotional atmosphere on the road.

Most importantly for the Americans, Wednesday night's match against Trinidad and Tobago also lacked the tension that gripped the first two games.

Goals by Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey in the first 18 minutes essentially decided the outcome, a 3-0 victory before 11,452 at Toyota Park, and all but secured passage to next year's final round of qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. The Americans should be able to clinch a berth against Cuba on Oct. 11 at Washington's RFK Stadium.

"We were excellent," forward Landon Donovan said. "The first half was one of the most dominating performances I have ever been a part of. We were good all over the field."

Brian Ching added a goal early in the second half for the Americans (3-0), who improved their unbeaten streak against Trinidad and Tobago to nine, their overall series record to 14-1-3 and their qualifying mark against the Soca Warriors to 9-0-2. They did have to withstand Trinidad and Tobago's persistence at the start of the second half, but earned their fifth consecutive shutout in qualifying play dating back to the second-round meeting with Barbados in June.

The U.S. team also set a program record with its sixth consecutive shutout (a tie with Argentina and five qualifying shutout victories).

Not only was the margin of victory much more comfortable than the 1-0 wins at Guatemala on Aug. 20 and Cuba last Saturday, the atmosphere was strikingly different than the caldron in Guatemala City and the historic setting in Havana. The disappointing turnout at the home of MLS's Chicago Fire made it feel like a exhibition.

Nonetheless, the Americans patiently broke down a team that, from the start, showed no interest in attacking. Playing with a lone forward and everyone else in a defensive posture when the Americans had possession, the Soca Warriors constantly retreated in an attempt to clog the passing channels and cause frustration.

"We knew we had to get them on their heels and come out at a high tempo and keep the ball moving fast," defender Steve Cherundolo said. "That was a key: If we put pressure on them, we know they are going to break down, it's just a matter of time. This time it happened in the beginning, which made the flow of the game a little easier."

In the ninth minute, Donovan's free kick from near the left sideline was delivered with direction and pace, meeting Bradley in stride. Unimpeded, Bradley leaped and cleverly volleyed the ball with the outside of his right foot from five yards into the right corner for his third goal in 24 U.S. appearances.

"Landon played in a great ball," he said. "On those set pieces from the side, you are just trying to slip into a little seam."

The goal should have drawn the Soca Warriors out of their shell. Instead, they remained cautious and, nine minutes later, found themselves trailing by two. This time, the goal came in the run of play with DaMarcus Beasley and Dempsey working a combination. Beasley's through ball liberated Dempsey behind the defense for a 16-yard finish under goalkeeper Marvin Phillip, his 13th goal in 45 matches and fourth in his last four appearances.

"I took one positive touch toward the goal and opened myself up and hit it hard and low," he said.

The start of the second half took a turn, however, and the Americans found themselves under severe pressure. Goalkeeper Tim Howard was not initially tested, but the activity was enough to send a nervous buzz through the crowd and boost the visitors' confidence. Shortly thereafter, U.S. defender Oguchi Onyewu deflected a dangerous ball just wide of the near post and Cherundolo was called upon to clear a shot off the goal line.

Having withstood the assault, the Americans stretched their lead in the 57th minute on another dead-ball situation. Beasley launched a free kick from 30 yards deep into the penalty area. The 6-foot-4 Onyewu headed the ball over the advancing Phillip and the unmarked Ching nodded it into an open net for his eight goal in 30 U.S. games.

"You win games in different ways," U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said. "And we have tried to establish within our group a mentality that on certain days, if it needs to be a 1-0 victory, then you know what? Make it a 1-0 victory. The best teams around the world, club and international level, guess what? They win a lot of 1-0 games.

"Having said that, when you are playing with a 1-0 lead, the ability to open up a defense, the ability to take certain advantages and press forward with the timing and execution, those are areas where we have to continue to improve, but certainly tonight it was nice to win by a 3-0 score."

U.S. Notes: Defenders Michael Orozco and Marvell Wynne, Olympic starters who are beginning to be integrated into the senior national team, were scratched from the active roster.

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