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Pulisic makes strong case that the USA is his team now

Goal.com logo Goal.com 09-06-2017

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. — They came to see the legend break a record, but instead got to see the prodigy make a statement.

On the night Clint Dempsey was expected to tie, or even break, Landon Donovan's record for most career U.S. national team goals, it was Christian Pulisic who delivered a pair of key strikes to help the U.S. earn a vital 2-0 victory over Trinidad & Tobago.

WATCH: Pulisic puts on a show

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Facing the same team they demolished last September in another home qualifier, the Americans found it much tougher to break down Trinidad & Tobago's defense, at least in the first half. Things changed in the second half when Darlington Nagbe's incisive dribble broke down the defense and Pulisic finished off the best sequence of the night for the Americans.

Pulisic didn't need long to secure the insurance goal, racing past his mark before slipping a hard and low shot past T&T goalkeeper Jan-Michael Williams in the 65th minute, essentially settling the match against a Soca Warriors side that isn't really built to play from behind.

If the talk about giving Pulisic time to develop hadn't already been silenced back in March with his impressive outings, then the funeral for the play-it-safe approach to handling Pulisic took place on Thursday night, with the Dortmund youngster shoveling the dirt on the coffin with his two-goal effort.

Dempsey's night ended early, with Arena pulling him out just a minute before Pulisic's goal. The Seattle Sounders star could be seen protesting the early exit with Arena, but the USA boss needed only point to Pulisic racing down the field and settling the outcome to show it wasn't a bad move.

Arena's change made sense on multiple levels. The U.S. held the lead and needed more stability in midfield, which Kellyn Acosta was able to provide. Pulling Dempsey early increases the chances he can take on an increased role against Mexico on Sunday. Then there was the unintended — or shrewdly intentional — consequence of having a fired up Dempsey ahead of Sunday's showdown with Mexico. Dempsey has made a career out of feeling like he needs to prove himself, and the competitor in him must have felt like a challenge was laid down.

No, Dempsey wasn't able to find the goal to tie Donovan's mark, but he did play his part in the match, combining with Nagbe on the sequence that culminated with Pulisic finishing from close range. Other than that though, it was a quiet night for the veteran striker, with his closest chance at a goal coming in the first half off a shot from the top of the box that sailed just over the crossbar.

The Americans had a tough time breaking down the Soca Warriors, too often settling for bad shots and forced crosses that led to nowhere. But there was a clear change in the second half, with the Americans making more of an effort to play through the middle, as well as more of an effort to get Pulisic involved in the match after a quiet first half. Nagbe was a big key in the tide turning in the second half, with his impressive runs at the defense opening up space and opportunity which Pulisic was able to thrive on.

Analzying the U.S. performances vs. T&T

There were some defensive issues for the U.S. to address as well, with Trinidad & Tobago finding success with crosses into the penalty area, a threat the U.S. has historically handled well. It's a safe bet Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio will have taken notice of that, though there is also a very good chance the U.S. will field a much different lineup on Sunday.

Overall, Arena couldn't have asked for a much better outcome. Sure, a first-half blowout would have been better in order to make earlier substitutions and make it a less-taxing match, but Trinidad & Tobago deserves some credit for having made clear improvements under coach Dennis Lawrence. The U.S. escaped relatively healthy, Arena was able to pull Dempsey and Fabian Johnson somewhat early, and he even sat Jozy Altidore with eight minutes left. He watched Nagbe really come out of his shell and impose himself in the second half, and he may have himself a fired-up Dempsey to turn to when the U.S. travels down to Mexico City for an extremely tough test against El Tri.

Last, but certainly not least, Arena watched Pulisic continue to develop into a player whose performances match his ability, a rising star who took another step toward being the team's go-to player.

That much was clear based on Pulisic's confident post-match guarantee that the U.S. will beat Mexico on Sunday.

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