Pulisic impresses, Altidore stars as USA rolls to CONCACAF hex

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The U.S. drilled Trinidad and Tobago 4-0 here on Tuesday behind goals by Sacha Kljestan, Jozy Altidore (two) and Paul Arriola, clinching first place in its semifinal-round qualifying group for World Cup 2018.

The win means the U.S. will start the final-round Hexagonal on November 11 with a home game against archrival Mexico in a game that SI.com has confirmed will take place in Columbus, Ohio, where the U.S. has beaten Mexico in four straight World Cup qualifiers by a 2-0 scoreline.

Christian Pulisic, the 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund winger wearing the No. 10 jersey, made his first start for the U.S. and delivered, bagging an assist and creating numerous chances from both wide and central positions. Meanwhile, the U.S. defense kept another clean sheet, this time with Tim Howard taking over in the platoon role from Brad Guzan.

Kljestan, who earned the start in central midfield next to Michael Bradley with a superb performance off the bench last Friday, has clearly regained some of Jurgen Klinsmann’s trust and broke the ice for the U.S. when it appeared the game would head to halftime scoreless. Kljestan’s resurgence is a sign that it is in fact possible to return from the “wilderness” under Klinsmann and get back on the field for the Stars Stripes.

The U.S. will have two friendlies in October to get ready for the Hex, meeting Cuba on the road and New Zealand in Washington D.C. at RFK Stadium.

Here are three thoughts on the game:

Man, Pulisic is promising

He’s not a finished product by any means, but Pulisic’s soccer IQ, burst with the ball and smooth technical ability make him the most exciting U.S. prospect since Landon Donovan.

Pulisic was confident on the ball all night long and showed a real spark both out wide (where he worked a give and go with Kljestan and fed Altidore brilliantly for a gorgeous goal) and moving into the center (where Pulisic will be a force eventually as an attacking central midfielder). It will be challenging for Klinsmann to keep Pulisic out of the lineup moving forward.

Now the challenge for Pulisic is to earn playing time on a stacked roster at Borussia Dortmund, which named him to its Champions League roster last week.

Altidore loves Jacksonville

Two years after Altidore scored twice in this stadium against Nigeria in the U.S.’s World Cup 2014 send-off game, he did the same thing against TT on Tuesday.

Altidore’s move in the box to create his shot for goal No. 1 was a thing of beauty, and he made a smart run to the far post to get on the end of Pulisic’s pinpoint cross for goal No. 2.

Altidore is in a good run of form for club and country, having put his hamstring issues in the rearview mirror, and if he can stay healthy there’s no reason he can’t have a major impact in the Hex, just as he did during the last World Cup cycle.

Geoff Cameron should stay at center back

It’s not that Cameron played badly in his move back to right back on Tuesday. He was fine. Meanwhile, Steven Birnbaum and Omar González did well in the central defense, and Fabian Johnson had a pretty good game at left back. But even with the U.S.’s surplus of center backs, Cameron has been a rock in that position during World Cup qualifying and Copa América, and he needs to be an automatic starter at his preferred CB position moving forward. He’s less comfortable at this level as a fullback, and one can hope that when DeAndre Yedlin returns from his yellow-card suspension Cameron will move back to the center.

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