CLEVELAND – The only embarrassment and shame was felt on the other side.
Two years later, the U.S. men’s soccer team turned the tables on Trinidad and Tobago.
Gyasi Zardes scored two goals in a three-minute span, Christian Pulisic added one during a five-goal barrage in the second half and the Americans unloaded on their nemesis in a 6-0 blowout in the CONCACAF Gold Cup on Saturday night, earning a small dose of revenge over the team that handed them a nightmarish loss in 2017.
Aaron Long scored his first two international goals – one with his head, the other off his chest – and Paul Arriola scored as the U.S. tallied five times in 25 minutes while cruising to its second shutout this week and advancing to the quarterfinals in Philadelphia on June 30.
It was the first matchup between the U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago since Oct. 10, 2017, when the Americans, needing only a tie to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, lost 2-1 to the Soca Warriors.
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The embarrassing defeat snapped a streak of seven straight World Cup appearances by the Americans and triggered a top-to-bottom overhaul of the men’s program, which has operated in the imposing shadow of the powerful U.S. women, seeking their fourth world title in France.
There would be no repeat performance by this revamped U.S. team, which is determined to win back global respect.
“Every time we step on the field we want to make a statement,” said Zardes, who just missed getting a third goal. “We’re trying to change the way the world views American soccer.”
The Americans posted their most lopsided win since beating Honduras 6-0 in a World Cup qualifier on March 24, 2017, when Pulisic, who took over this game in the second half, also scored and had a pair of assists.
But while much of the pre-game talk centered on the U.S. getting payback, the Americans insist they’ve put the past behind them.
“For us, we advance to the next round,” coach Gregg Berhalter said. “That’s important. Our focus was to prepare for this game knowing that if we’d be able to go to the next round. That was the focus of the group. Trinidad was in our way.”
With the U.S. leading 1-0 on Long’s goal in the 41st minute, Zardes scored from right in front shortly after U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen made a diving save to stop Trinidad from tying a match the Americans dominated.
Michael Bradley chipped the ball from the left side to a charging Nick Lima, who headed the ball to Zardes in front. The American striker only had to guide it by Trinidad keeper Marvin Phillip in the 65th minute. Two minutes later, Zardes buried a hard shot from the left side for his 10th international goal and second two-goal game for the Americans.
Zardes nearly completed a hat trick, but his low shot from up top in the 70th minute hit the left upright.
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Next up for the Americans is a matchup with Panama on Wednesday in Kansas City, Kansas. The Panamanians improved to 2-0 in Group D of the 16-team tournament with a 4-2 win over Guyana, also clinching a quarterfinal berth.
On a picture-perfect night along the shores of Lake Erie, the American team controlled possession and tempo while thoroughly outplaying T&T, which was blanked 2-0 by Panama in its opening match and was eliminated.
The Soca Warriors were content to sit back and let the U.S. attack, hoping to spring counters. They nearly connected in the 61st minute as Cordell Cato eluded three defenders on the right side and hit teammate Levi Garcia in stride. But Garcia’s shot was high and wide, a close call that prompted a collective gasp from the U.S. faithful.
“Big moment,” Trinidad coach Dennis Lawrence said. “When you get in that position, you have to put that away.”
Lawrence was upset with how his team collapsed following the U.S. team’s second goal.
“How can you play so good for 65 minutes and then so awful for the last 25?” he said, repeating his postgame message to his players. “We have to learn to stand up and fight. We lost focus and we paid the price.”
Berhalter stuck with the same starting lineup he used in the opener over Guyana but gave the captain’s arm band to Steffen for the first time. Bradley captained the Americans in the opening 4-0 win over Guyana.
Long, who plays in the MLS for the New York Red Bulls, put the U.S. ahead off a beautiful feed from the left side by Pulisic.
Shortly after the U.S. was awarded a free kick, the Americans kept pressing and maintained possession in Trinidad’s half before Pulisic spotted Long inside the 6-yard-box and delivered an arching pass to the forward, who left his feet, connected and drove the ball past a sprawling Phillip.
The score touched off a flag-waving celebration behind the goal by red-white-and blue clad U.S. fans, who have been anxiously awaiting their team’s chance at some redemption.
After a 20-month wait, they got a little.