Thursday, April 2, 2009

NASHVILLE, Tenn. | Jozy Altidore became the youngest American with an international hat trick, and the United States beat Trinidad and Tobago 3-0 on Wednesday night to maintain its lead in the final round of qualifying for next year’s World Cup.

Making just his fourth international start, Altidore connected in the 13th, 71st and 89th minutes, all three times off passes from Landon Donovan.

The 19-year-old forward, an increasingly important part of the U.S. roster, also scored as a substitute in the 77th minute Saturday to start the U.S. comeback from a two-goal deficit in a 2-2 tie at El Salvador. He has six goals in nine international appearances.

“It’s pretty cool,” Altidore said. “Most important is we came out, and the guys rebounded from the El Salvador game, and we made a statement - made a statement we are one of the teams to be reckoned with in CONCACAF.”

Altidore eclipsed the mark for youngest hat trick set in 2004, when 20-year-old Eddie Johnson scored three times as a substitute in a 6-0 win over Panama in the semifinals of qualifying.

“He’s earned it,” Donovan said. “He has played well. He deserved it.”

The United States (2-0-1), seeking its sixth straight World Cup berth, leads the final round of North and Central American and Caribbean qualifying with seven points, followed by Mexico and Costa Rica (both 1-1) with three each, El Salvador (0-0-2) and Trinidad (0-1-2) with two each and Honduras (0-1-1) with one. In late games, Honduras hosted Mexico and Costa Rica was at home against El Salvador.

U.S. coach Bob Bradley made four changes to his starting lineup and used an offensive formation. He dropped DaMarcus Beasley from midfield to left back in place of Heath Pearce, started Brian Ching and Altidore up front, and left Donovan (left) and Clint Dempsey (right) in advanced midfield roles. With Beasley roaming up, it resembled a 4-3-3 at times.

“They both made so many plays,” Donovan said of Altidore and Ching.

No. 75 Trinidad and Tobago, playing without suspended 37-year-old star Dwight Yorke, didn’t have a shot on goal against the world’s 17th-ranked team until Keon Daniel’s attempt on a rebound after a free kick bounced off a defensive wall in the 63rd minute.

American goalkeeper Tim Howard, returning from a one-game suspension for a yellow card, nearly got into trouble in the sixth minute when he kicked a free kick right to Stern John. But it bounced off the forward and went wide.

Six minutes later, Bocanegra played a long ball up the left to Ching, and he headed it to Donovan.

Donovan chested the ball, then crossed to Altidore, who broke free of Aklie Edwards and beat goalkeeper Clayton Ince from six yards. It was the fourth goal in nine international appearances for the 19-year-old.

Altidore had two other chances in the first half, putting an angled shot wide in the 27th minute and popping an open shot over the crossbar in the 41st.

He got the second goal after taking a pass from Donovan and faking out Trinidad captain Dennis Lawrence. On the final goal, Michael Bradley received a long pass and played the ball into the penalty area to Donovan, who bent it back to Altidore. His shot from 19 yards bounced in off Ince’s hands.

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