After two games on the long path to the 2018 World Cup, the United States has four points. The Americans and coach Jurgen Klinsmann followed a miserable four-month stretch with a decent start in qualifying.
Gyasi Zardes and Jermaine Jones hit the crossbar, and the U.S. was held to a 0-0 with Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday night in Port-of-Spain.
“We’ve gone on the road and lost the first game, so this is a good point,” goalkeeper Tim Howard said. “It sets it up really nicely for March, for sure.”
After the first two games of semifinals in the North and Central American and Caribbean region, the U.S. leads with four points and a plus-five goal difference, followed by Trinidad (four points and plus one), Guatemala (three points) and St. Vincent and the Grenadines (none).
Qualifying for the 2018 World Cup in Russia breaks until late March, when the Americans play Guatemala away and home in a five-day span. After the final matches next September, the top two teams advance to the six-national regional finals.
“Our goal is to make a huge step then in March with six points,” Klinsmann said.
Zardes’ open header off of Jozy Altidore’s cross hit the crossbar just 75 seconds into the second half. Jones’ 30-yard right-footed strike glanced off the top of the crossbar in the 78th minute.
“We got unlucky. We didn’t take our chances,” defender Geoff Cameron said. “We had two opportunities, two clear opportunities, two crossbars. We could have done better in the final third. That will come. But it’s still a great point on the road.”
The U.S. returned to the site of the win that earned the Americans’ first World Cup berth in 40 years. The warm and humid night twas two days shy of the 26th anniversary of Paul Caligiuri’s famous goal.
“In some of these smaller countries, these games are everything,” Howard said. “It makes for a tough environment.”
Howard, who returned last month from a one-year sabbatical from the national team, took over as goalkeeper from Brad Guzan in what has turned into a rotation. It was the 36-year-old’s first competitive game for the U.S. since making 15 saves in the 2-1 extra time defeat to Belgium in the round of 16 at last year’s tournament in Brazil.
The only other change in the American lineup had Michael Orozco at right back, with DeAndre Yedlin pushing up to midfield and Zardes switching from midfield to forward in place of Bobby Wood.
Zardes played his 19th game of 2015, matching Claudio Reyna (1994) for most appearances in a player’s debut year with the U.S. national team.
Trinidad’s first shot came just 20 seconds in, but Joevin Jones’ effort was too high. Kenwyne Jones sent an open shot just wide in the 13th.
Seeking offensive spark, the United States subbed in national team newcomer Darlington Nagbe for Tim Ream in the 68th minute, then brought in Wood for Zardes in the 76th. Ream was given a head injury assessment and exhibited no symptoms of a concussion, U.S. team spokesman Michael Kammarman said.
Klinsmann was criticized heavily after the Americans were eliminated in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July, then lost to Mexico last month in the playoff for a Confederations Cup berth. Now the team has four months off until its next competitive match.
“Overall a tie is all right,” Klinsmann said, “is keeping us in first place in the group.”