The United States men's national team was on edge against Trinidad and Tobago until Aaron Long headed home a cross from Christian Pulisic in the 41st minute on Saturday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland.
It proved to be the spark plug, as the U.S. finally found an offensive rhythm in the second half and defeated Trinidad and Tobago 6-0 to advance to the knockout stage of the 2019 Gold Cup and avenge its 2017 loss that kept the team out of the 2018 World Cup.
Long's first goal—he notched a brace in the 90th minute—buried an otherwise underwhelming performance from the American side in the first half.
The header came up big for the U.S. again in the 66th minute when Nick Lima headed a cross toward Gyasi Zardes, who tapped it home. Zardes completed the brace in the 69th minute after Pulisic set him up at the top of the box.
And then Pulisic added a goal of his own to his two assists in the 73rd minute.
The U.S. did well to generate more chances in the second half. One of the Americans' best looks came when Weston McKennie threaded a perfectly timed through ball to Paul Arriola, whose shot landed just wide.
While that particular play was fruitless in this game, it illustrates the type of passing attack the U.S. needs to sustain throughout a full 90 minutes if it wants to have a chance against stronger competition in the knockout stages.
More specifically, Pulisic's increased involvement and production in this game compared to the opener against Guyana is paramount for the U.S. moving forward:
Another encouraging development in the second half for Gregg Berhalter's squad was Jordan Morris, who clocked his first Gold Cup minutes when he replaced Tyler Boyd in the 61st minute. Morris contributed two assists and provided reliable depth for an injury-riddled side.
As a whole, the U.S. looked much crisper in the attack than it did against Guyana. The final game of group play against Panama, which defeated Trinidad 2-0 in its opener and Guyana 4-2 earlier Saturday, should be the next step in building a cohesive game from start to finish ahead of the quarterfinals and beyond.
The U.S. will finish Group D play against Panama, while Trinidad and Tobago will wrap up against Guyana. Both matches are set for Wednesday at Children's Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.