Matt Besler scored his first international goal just hours after the birth of his daughter, 17-year-old Christian Pulisic added two late strikes and the United States routed St. Vincent and the Grenadines, 6-0, on Friday to move into prime position to advance to the final round of World Cup qualifying.
Bobby Wood scored in the 28th minute, Besler doubled the lead in the 32nd and Jozy Altidore converted a penalty kick in the 43rd as the Americans built a 3-0 halftime lead at the Arnos Vale cricket ground in St. Vincent.
Pulisic and Sacha Kljestan entered midway through the second half and combined for three goals. Pulisic scored in the 71st minute off a pass from Kljestan, who had not played for the national team since March 2014, and the 30-year-old Kljestan tapped in a cross from Pulisic seven minutes later for his first U.S. goal in six years. Pulisic scored from 18 yards off Kljestan’s pass in the second minute of stoppage time, his third international goal.
Besler, a 29-year-old defender who started at the 2014 World Cup, was making his 36th international appearance. Just before kickoff, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced Besler’s wife, Amanda, gave birth to Parker Besler earlier Friday. After the goal, Besler was surrounded by five teammates in a rocking baby celebration reminiscent of Bebeto’s at the 1994 World Cup.
The 26th-ranked United States (3-1-1) moved into first place in Group C on goal difference over Trinidad and Tobago (3-0-1), which hosted Guatemala (2-2) later Friday. A T&T win Friday would clinch advancement for the Americans and the Soca Warriors. The U.S. completes the semifinal round Tuesday against Trinidad at Jacksonville, Florida.
St. Vincent (0-5), ranked 156th, had goals disallowed for offside in the 51st and 56th minutes but otherwise rarely tested goalkeeper Brad Guzan.
Because St. Vincent’s new Argyle International Airport has not been finished, the U.S. charter flight from Florida could not fly directly to the island’s E.T. Joshua Airport, which has a shorter runway. Instead, the Americans flew to Barbados and players transferred to a pair of 19-seat planes to reach St. Vincent, an island nation with a population just over 100,000/ A third plane for the team’s gear had a dead battery, to the pair of 19-seaters dropped off the players, then returned to Barbados to get the gear and team staff.
On a hot and humid afternoon that included water breaks, both national anthems were played on steel drums.
The opening goal came after Altidore nearly lost possession trying to beat a defender just outside the penalty area, then played the ball wide. Fabian Johnson poked it back out to Wood, who curled a 19-yard right-footed shot to the far post, past the outstretched arm of goalkeeper Christopher Lemus, for his seventh international goal.
Besler doubled the lead four minutes later when Graham Zusi chipped a free kick and Nazir McBernette’s headed clearance attempt went toward the defender. Besler chested the ball, knocked it in with his left foot from about four yards.
Altidore converted a penalty kick in the 43rd minute after Roy Richards kicked down Wood, who was streaking into the penalty area. With his 35th international goal, Altidore moved past Eric Wynalda for sole possession of third on the American career scoring list behind Landon Donovan (57) and Clint Dempsey (52).
Kellyn Acosta, a 21-year-old left back, made his first competitive appearance for the U.S. and third overall. Captain Michael Bradley (yellow card accumulation) and defender Michael Orozco (red card in Copa America third-place game) were suspended. Dempsey (irregular heartbeat) and forward Gyasi Zardes (broken bone in right foot) also missed the game along with midfielder Jermaine Jones (knee) and defender John Brooks (back).
Right back DeAndre Yedlin was given a yellow card for a 13th-minute foul and will be suspended for Tuesday’s game, when Tim Howard is slated to start in goal.