Sleepwalking USMNT wakes up just in time to roll to Nations League win

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For 82 minutes, the U.S. men’s national team was frustrated against a shorthanded, but resolute Trinidad and Tobago side on Thursday night in Austin.

But in the space of just eight head-spinning minutes, the USMNT finally made its man advantage count, scoring three times in the blink of an eye to earn a 3-0 win in the first leg of the CONCACAF Nations League quarterfinal.

The prospect of a nerve-racking trip to Port of Spain for Monday’s second leg loomed large throughout most of a frustrating evening for Gregg Berhalter’s side, which played up a man after a 38th-minute red card for T&T. 

But the U.S. will now travel to the Caribbean with a comfortable, if not completely unassailable advantage, after late goals from Ricardo Pepi, Antonee Robinson and Gio Reyna at Q2 Stadium.

The USMNT controlled the first half but was unable to make its huge possession advantage count for much, as the visitors frustrated a home side that looked bereft of inspiration without the injured Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah.

But the U.S. got a true gift with 10 minutes remaining in the first half when Noah Powder, already on a yellow card, made an ill-advised challenge from behind on Weston McKennie to pick up a second booking.

Still, the U.S. struggled to trouble the T&T back line, managing zero shots on goal in a first half that saw it have 75 percent possession.

The second half saw the U.S. push harder to solve the 10-man visitors, finally getting a few shots on target after the break. Yunus Musah had perhaps the best chance with a screamer from distance that Denzil Smith did well to palm away.

The USMNT’s frustrations grew when referee Oshane Nation awarded it a penalty, only to take it away after a VAR review.

Just when it looked like Berhalter’s men may not find a way through, the dam broke.

Pepi finished off a Robinson cross with a stylish flick to open the scoring, before Robinson doubled the advantage four minutes later with a deflected strike from distance.

Reyna completed the scoring after a neat layoff from Folarin Balogun, giving the U.S. some breathing room heading into Monday night.

The job isn’t completely done, but the U.S. will now feel much better about its chances of reaching the Nations League semifinal — and earning the berth at the 2024 Copa América that comes along with it.

This post appeared first on USA TODAY