After a meandering first 45 minutes, the United States made it two wins in two games in the Gold Cup group stage, defeating Trinidad and Tobago 6-0 on Saturday night in Cleveland.
It had been 620 days since the U.S. was denied a place at the 2018 World Cup by the Caribbean nation, when the Americans were defeated 2-1 on the final day of qualifying for the competition. U.S. players this week played down the notion that they'd be seeking revenge for that loss, but their victory was physical throughout and occasionally tempers flared.
"Every time we step on the field we want to make a statement," said U.S. forward Gyasi Zardes, who scored twice and barely missed a third. "We're trying to change the way the world views American soccer."
Zack Steffen was the first goalkeeper to be seriously tested, when he was forced to punch away a rasping drive from Trinidad's Khaleem Hyland nine minutes into the contest. But it was Hyland who came off the worst, pulling up lame after his shot, and he was unable to continue, subbed off for Kevin Molino barely 15 minutes into the game.
The two sides exchanged chances throughout the first 40 minutes, though neither truly had an edge before Aaron Long broke the deadlock with four minutes to go in the first half. He got his head on the end of a whipped cross from Christian Pulisic, sneaking his effort underneath goalkeeper Marvin Phillip in his first of two goals on the night.
And much like the group-stage win over Guyana on Tuesday, Gregg Berhalter's men struggled to dictate the terms of the contest in the first half, only to gain momentum after the interval.
Twenty-one minutes into the second half, Zardes scored his second goal of the Gold Cup, when Nick Lima's header across the box fell to the Columbus Crew forward to tap in. He added his second of the night three minutes later, shaping a shot past the outstretched arms of Phillip and into the top corner.
Barely three minutes later, he was denied his hat trick twice in quick succession, first striking the woodwork and then having a header kept out by a point-blank save from Phillip.
Pulisic made it 4-0 on 73 minutes, directing the ball into the far corner after substitute Jordan Morris picked him out in acres of space inside the area. Morris added another assist five minutes later, sending a ball across the 6-yard box that Paul Arriola tapped in to make it a 5-0 lead.
Long wrapped up the scoring in the 90th minute, beating Phillip to a loose ball in the box and chesting it into a gaping net.
"For us, we advance to the next round," Berhalter said. "That's important. Our focus was to prepare for this game knowing that if we'd be able to go to the next round. That was the focus of the group. Trinidad was in our way."