USMNT comes alive late to beat Trinidad and Tobago

AUSTIN, Texas – Despite playing up a man for almost a full hour, it took the U.S. men’s national team until the 82nd minute of Thursday’s CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinals first leg against Trinidad and Tobago to score the winner it needed ahead of Monday’s decisive match of the home-and-home, total goals series.

Second half substitute Ricardo Pepi had the badly needed opener for the Americans. The hosts soon added a second from Antonee “Jedi” Robinson and then a third by Gio Reyna in what ended up a way too-close-for-comfort 3-0 win. 

Here are a few quick takeaways. 

Play of the game

With the game deadlocked at zeros and the clock ticking away, Reyna found Robinson on the left side of the Soca Warriors’ penalty area. Robinson sent a powerful cross into the box, and 20-year-old native Texan Pepi — who has five goals in 10 appearances off the bench for the USMNT in his young career — nodded the ball past visiting keeper Denzil Smith at the near post:

Turning point

The hosts dominated play during the first half but had nothing to show for it. The passing wasn’t sharp enough to penetrate Trinidad’s low defensive block. All seven shots they took were off target. 

But the U.S. got an unexpected gift when the visitors Noah Powder, who had already been shown a yellow card by Jamaican referee Oshane Nation for a nasty foul on Weston McKennie, hacked down McKennie from behind. It was an obvious second yellow, and sure enough Nation flashed it before pulling the red card from his back pocket to end Powder’s night in the 37th minute. 

The U.S. wasn’t able to capitalize on its man advantage immediately — the first shot on goal by Gregg Berhalter’s team didn’t come until the 53rd minute. But sensing the urgency of the moment, the USMNT continued to pour on the pressure. Folarin Balogun forced another save from T&T keeper Denzil Smith, which was soon followed by a third. At that point, it seemed like only a matter of time until the Americans found the breakthrough, even after a penalty call that was overturned by Nation following video review. 

It took long enough to arrive, but Pepi’s strike finally opened the floodgates. But it might not have happened without Powder’s silly unforced mistake. 

Key stat

The U.S. has now beaten Trinidad and Tobago four consecutive times since 2019, by a combined margin of 22-0. 

What’s next for the USMNT

The U.S. will travel the almost 2,700 miles south to Port of Spain, T&T’s capital, on Saturday ahead of Monday’s decisive second leg. It’s the Americans’ first trip to the dual island Caribbean nation since 2017, when the Soca Warriors shocked the U.S. with a 2-1 win that snapped a streak of seven straight World Cup appearances for the USMNT. 

For much of Thursday night, it looked like the U.S. would once again have to go to Trinidad and get either a win or a tie to qualify for a major tournament, in this case the 2024 Copa America. Instead, the 3-0 aggregate advantage all but guarantees that the Americans will both participate in that event on home soil and the Nations League final four in Dallas next March. 

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United Statesmen’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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