ST. LOUIS --
Once the initial shock of conceding the opening goal to St. Vincent and the Grenadines inside the opening five minutes wore off, the United States men's national team tended to their World Cup qualifying opener with care. This methodical 6-1 victory at Busch Stadium reflected the distance between the sides on the night and staked the Americans to the only acceptable start to their Group C obligations.
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Jozy Altidore led the way with his 30th and 31st international goals, but this collective effort started from the moment Oalex Anderson curled home for the visitors. Bobby Wood equalized with his header after 11 minutes before Fabian Johnson and Altidore extended the lead with a pair of goals around the half-hour. Geoff Cameron, Gyasi Zardes and Altidore padded the margin of victory after the break as the Americans eased to victory.
It proved a fundamental and necessary start given the stakes at hand. This professional display offered a boost to a side in need of one after a difficult few months. The comfortable margin even allowed U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to hand full debuts to Darlington Nagbe and Matt Miazga in the second half as the match petered to its conclusion.
The burden now falls on Klinsmann and his players to build on this initial step ahead of the difficult visit to Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday. T&T collected a 2-1 victory in Guatemala to join the Americans atop Group C after one round.
"I think it was a very professional performance by our team," U.S. defender Matt Besler said. "We were sharp. I thought we moved the ball well. I think we did all of the things necessary against a team like St. Vincent to win the game. Now we move on. It was a great start to the qualifying campaign, but we move on to a tough Trinidad team."
This match loomed as a straightforward exercise for the Americans until Anderson staked St. Vincent to a surprising lead after just five minutes. The sequence started with a simple failure to cope with a diagonal ball over the top. Cameron dealt with the initial danger, but Anderson streaked out of midfield to collect unencumbered on the left as DeAndre Yedlin and Zardes struggled to manage the spacing on the right. Anderson made the most of the opportunity by slicing inside and sweeping inside the far post send the visitors in front.
"It's very tricky to play against these type of teams," Klinsmann said. "We had a similar experience where we played against Antigua and Barbuda. You might get a goal, you might get a counter break and then they bunker in and you have to find a way to score the first and the second goal. It seemed that -- very quickly -- it turned into an entertaining game."
Rapid reaction: Easy victory offers little insight into U.S. qualifying prospects
Credit the United States national team for composure and patience. This group did not expect to trail St. Vincent at any point, but they produced the proper response in order to ease to a 6-1 victory at Busch Stadium.
Instead of allowing themselves to get stretched after Oalex Anderson's opener, they stuck to their task as expected. They relied on their superiority in possession, trusted their dominance on set pieces and wielded those strengths effectively to overturn the deficit and proceed professionally toward victory.
This night offered a chance to start the World Cup qualifying campaign with three points, but it supplied precious little information. This sort of challenge -- a weak opponent essentially focused on damage limitation -- barely resembles the task ahead against Trinidad & Tobago in Port of Spain on Tuesday or the pair of matches ahead against Guatemala in March.
Even with that caveat in mind, the result at least provides the Americans with the chance to place the recent struggles firmly in the rear view mirror. It is now incumbent upon them to build on some of the principles applied here and then summon them in far different circumstances in the matches ahead.
The opening goal encouraged St. Vincent to drop deeply inside their own half and soak up pressure. The onus fell on the Americans to carve them open in possession and rely on movement and tempo to create opportunities in the final third. All of those qualities rose to the fore to produce the equalizer after 11 minutes.
Zardes initially claimed the ball in the right corner and picked out Michael Bradley inside the penalty area. Bradley located Yedlin's run toward the end line and played Yedlin into a position to pull his cross back toward the near post. Wood reacted quickly to twist his header past Winslow McDowall to restore parity.
Wood's goal settled any lingering nerves and underscored the importance of taking care in possession. St. Vincent dropped deep inside the defensive half and started to apply pressure some 40 yards from its own goal. Those measures provided the Americans with several opportunities before a pair of goals in three minutes essentially removed any doubt about the outcome.
Most of the groundwork to the American second occurred after several attempts to exploit the channels by playing straight through the midfield line. Altidore collected a Matt Besler pass and spun quickly to win a foul on the left side of the penalty area. Johnson hit the resulting free kick off the wall and watched the deflected effort nestle inside the far post after 29 minutes.
Altidore benefited from another set piece opportunity to extend the lead two minutes later. Johnson curled a menacing corner kick toward the congested near post. The effort flicked off a St. Vincent defender toward the gaping far post. Altidore arrived at the perfect time to nod home from close range for his 30th international goal.
The flurry of goals shifted the focus toward managing the affair deftly. St. Vincent flickered from time to time with Anderson a recurring threat on the left, but the Americans maintained complete control and spent much of the second half seeking to increase their margin of victory.
"It was a nice performance by the group," Klinsmann said. "There was good energy from the players. They always tried to add another one against a team that was basically putting a wall around their 18-yard box."
Cameron continued the American quest to spotlight St. Vincent's set piece concerns six minutes after halftime. Johnson once again posed the initial threat with a corner to the near post. Wood flicked on deftly to elude the pack near the penalty spot and permit Cameron to steer his header inside the far post.
Altidore and Zardes combined to procure the fifth just before the hour as the gap continued to widen. Altidore held the ball up well and played through the line into Zardes' run. Zardes kept his composure and slotted through McDowall's legs to increase the margin.
The gulf between the teams prompted Klinsmann to introduce Miazga and Nagbe for their first international appearances. Both players are now cap-tied to the U.S. program after taking the field in an international competition. Jordan Morris soon joined them as the Americans knocked the ball around in the waning stages.
Altidore completed the rout with a deserved second in the final 20 minutes. His determined work and deflected finish typified the efforts on the night and rounded it off in style. There are considerably more difficult challenges ahead, but the Americans dispatched this initial assignment with relatively little fuss to secure the necessary start to their World Cup qualifying campaign.
"It is always important to start with three points in the qualifying campaign," Klinsmann said. "It's a long run that we have ahead of ourselves. Obviously, we expect ourselves to go through this group and get the necessary points, one game at a time. All together, it will be 16 games that we have to master. This was the first one tonight."