JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jozy Altidore made U.S. history. So did Christian Pulisic.
Altidore scored twice in a three-minute span of the second half, Sacha Kljestan and Paul Arriola had goals and the United States beat Trinidad and Tobago 4-0 on Tuesday night to reach the final round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.
The Americans (4-1-1) finished atop Group C of the semifinal round in the North and Central American and Caribbean region and open the hexagonal on Nov. 11 against Mexico. That match almost certainly will be in Columbus, Ohio, where the U.S. has won four straight qualifiers over El Tri by 2-0 scores.
“No doubt in my mind,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said of the site.
U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati later tweeted: “Guerra Fria?”
After U.S. hosts Mexico, it plays four days later at Costa Rica.
Altidore, who missed most of the 2014 World Cup and all of this year’s Copa America because of hamstring injuries, hopes to remain on the field.
“I’m just trying to stay healthy, man,” he said. “I know I have a lot to give if I’m healthy. But that’s the key. For me, it’s just trying to stay on the field, and I know if I do that, I can help the team.”
Altidore etched his name in the record book by becoming the United States’ leader with 16 qualifying goals, two more than Clint Dempsey.
Pulisic made his first U.S. start after seven appearances as a substitute, and at 17 years, 353 days, became the youngest American to start a qualifier. Landon Donovan had set the mark of 18 years, 184 days against Honduras in 2001 — the last home qualifier the Americans lost.
Pulisic, who had two goals and an assist against St. Vincent and the Grenadines last week, showed pace and an ability to take on defenders down the left flank. He assisted on Altidore’s second goal.
Pulisic also had a memorable miss when his sliding shot in the first half hit the left post, ricocheted across the face of the goal and bounced off the right post.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that,” he said. “After that, I didn’t think I was going to score because there’s no way after something like that. Disappointing.”
Coaches and teammates raved about the teenager’s poise.
“It’s crazy,” Altidore said. “Seventeen years old and he has a calmness when he gets the ball. He can glide by people almost effortlessly. The challenge for him is to stay hungry and keep improving and for you guys to leave him alone. He doesn’t need to be reading about himself too much right now. He just needs to keep his head and keep working.”
Added Klinsmann: “I don’t want to give him too many compliments. Got to keep him down on the ground.”
Trinidad (3-2-1) already had clinched a final-round berth and finished two points back, one ahead of Guatemala (3-2-1), which was eliminated despite a 9-3 rout of St. Vincent that included five goals by Carlos Ruiz.
Kljestan put the U.S. ahead in the 44th minute, and Altidore doubled the lead off Fabian Johnson’s cross in the 59th. Altidore got his 37th international goal three minutes later, and with the chance for a hat trick chipped over the crossbar after Pulisic helped him break in as injury time started.
“We were flowing,” Altidore said. “It was good. Guys were moving and creating space and being crafty. When we’re like that, we’re on our game and we’re at our most dangerous.”
Kljestan scored with a toe shot from 10 yards out. After a throw in, Johnson played the ball to Kljestan, who flicked it back to the left back. He passed to Pulisic, whose cross was knocked out by Khaleem Hyland to teammate Radanfah Abu Bakr. His clearance hit Kljestan’s midsection, and Kljestan scored for the second straight game since his return to the national team, his sixth goal in 48 international appearances.
Johnson set up the second goal with a cross to Altidore, who juked MeKeil Williams, turned and scored from 13 yards.
His second goal was even niftier. Pulisic used a give-and-go with Kljestan to get open and then crossed to Altidore for a tap-in near the far post.
Arriola was making his second appearance. He scored in an exhibition win at Puerto Rico on May 22.
“We’re a little bit more dynamic,” said Tim Howard, who made his 32nd World Cup qualifying appearance and passed Kasey Keller for the most among American goalkeepers. “We added some young players to the fold. Well, maybe they were part of it but they’re getting opportunities now. They make us a little more dynamic. We’re shifty. We’re able to press. It’s been a good change for us.”
They can only hope it continues against Mexico.
“Now going into hexagonal with a big chest, saying, ‘OK, let’s take on Mexico in the first game,’ with a lot of confidence and respect, obviously,” Klinsmann said. “We see ourselves on the right path.”
Notes: Canada, which hasn’t played in the World Cup since 1986, was eliminated from Group A defeating visiting El Salvador 3-1 on goals by Clyle Larin, Nikolas Ledgerwood and David Edgar. Honduras (2-2-2) finished second, one point ahead of the Canadians (2-3-1), with a 0-0 draw at already qualified Mexico (5-0-1). … Costa Rica won Group B, beating second-place Panama 3-1 on two goals by Christian Bolanos and one from Ronald Matarrita. Luis Tejada converted a 90th-minute penalty kick for the visitors. Both teams already had clinched.
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