By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 2, 2009
NASHVILLE, April 1 -- Three goals for Jozy Altidore. Three assists for Landon Donovan. And for the U.S. men's national soccer team, three more points in its continuing pursuit of a 2010 World Cup berth.
Altidore, 19, became the youngest player in U.S. history to record a hat trick as the Americans responded from a sub-par performance over the weekend and defeated Trinidad and Tobago, 3-0, Wednesday night before 27,959 at LP Field.
He staked the United States to a 13th-minute lead with a one-timer from six yards, blended power, precision and a clever touch in the 71st, and capped just his ninth international appearance with a shot from distance that slipped under a beleaguered goalkeeper in the 89th.
Four days after scoring during a second-half comeback that resulted in a 2-2 tie at El Salvador, Altidore kept the Americans (2-0-1) atop the six-nation standings and on pace to earn one of three automatic berths in next summer's 32-team tournament.
"Jozy is a player who obviously can hold the ball, but he also moves well," U.S. Coach Bob Bradley said. "He drifts from the side, he comes from different spots, and most of all, he is someone when he gets chances around the goal has an ability to finish."
Altidore's uprising comes at a crucial time in his career. Bradley is molding a team for the next World Cup, and although Altidore has struggled to earn playing time in Spain, he has made steady strides with the national team. On this night, he paired nicely with veteran striker Brian Ching and was the recipient of Donovan's pinpoint passes to supplant Eddie Johnson, who at age 20 had a hat trick at RFK Stadium in October 2004, as the youngest three-goal scorer.
Commenting on the impression he might've made on his European employers, Altidore said: "You have to earn it from day one. It's a tough lesson for a lot of young players to learn, including myself. I am finally understanding what is needed to be successful there. It's going to be a process, it's not going to happen overnight. I still have a ways to go and hopefully I will keep improving."
Bradley made four changes to the lineup and two significant positional shifts. As expected, goalkeeper Tim Howard returned from a yellow card suspension and central defender Oguchi Onyewu was back from a minor knee injury. Pablo Mastroeni, a veteran of two World Cups, replaced Sacha Kljestan, 23, in central midfield and Altidore earned his fourth career start.
Donovan, commonly a withdrawn forward, stepped back into the midfield and played a left-side role with the flexibility to move centrally. DaMarcus Beasley, who has started on the left flank most of his career, became the left back and was highly influential after a poor game in El Salvador.
The Americans seized the initiative and had the better early possession. After an early scare -- Howard's clearing attempt struck Stern John and took a fortuitous bounce wide of the net -- Altidore capped a succinct sequence.
Carlos Bocanegra sent a long ball out of the back to Ching, who directed a header into Donovan's path. The program's all-time leading scorer drove a low cross through the penalty area to Altidore for the simple finish.
The Americans' quick interaction, overlapping runs and tight crosses forced the Soca Warriors into constant retreat.
In the 71st, Donovan raided the left side and crossed to Altidore, who took possession about 23 yards and charged into the box. Defender Dennis Lawrence's challenge was no match, leaving him on his buttocks as Altidore stepped into space and fired an eight-yard shot into the right corner.
The third goal was also set up by Donovan, who passed on a chance to shoot himself and left the ball for Altidore, whose 19-yard shot slipped under Ince and into the left corner.
"I definitely said 'thank you' because he could have taken a touch and put it in," said Altidore, who has six career goals. "He's a very unselfish player and it says a lot about his character."
Soccer Notes: The U.S. team's three first-round opponents and locations for this summer's Gold Cup will be announced Thursday. Seattle, RFK Stadium and Foxborough, Mass., are the most likely sites. . . .
Midfielder-forward Freddy Adu, and defenders Jonathan Spector, Danny Califf and Heath Pearce were not included on the 18-man game-day roster. Califf and Pearce started Saturday. Adu, who has struggled for playing time with French club Monaco, was not in uniform for either qualifier.