FC Dallas striker Eddie Johnson stretched his World Cup qualifying scoring streak to four games to lead the U.S. national team to a 2-1 win against Trinidad & Tobago in the opening match of the final round of qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup on Wednesday in Port of Spain, Trinidad.
Johnson's sixth goal in four appearances at the senior level gave the USA a first-half lead, and then Eddie Lewis added a second-half goal for the U.S. before Trinidad made the final moments interesting with a late goal as the U.S. picked up an important three points away from home.
Despite opening the final hexagonal on the road, the USA created the better of the early chances, though they were unable to find the net on either. Former Columbus Crew striker Brian McBride got on the end of a long cross to force goalkeeper Shaka Hislop into parrying wide for a corner kick in the 20th minute.
The ensuing set piece was cleared easily, but Colorado Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni fired a dipping volley from distance that had Hislop backpedaling before he tipped the ball over the top and out of danger.
Another header at the other end of the field almost drew the scores level. Former Columbus Crew man Stern John got his head to a cross, but Kasey Keller was on hand to make the save and keep the visitors in front until the break.
Then Johnson struck to put the USA ahead at the 30-minute mark. Defender Steve Cherundolo fed a cross from the right wing, Johnson ghosting in unmarked in the heart of the Trinidad & Tobago penalty area before finding the net with a powerful downward header.
The action picked up immediately after the intermission, chances arriving for both teams. U.S. captain and former San Jose Earthquakes man Landon Donovan should have scored in the 52nd minute when Johnson laid the ball off to him 12 yards from goal, but his shot struck the legs of Hislop.
The ball then quickly traveled the length of the field as Leslie Fitzpatrick was put through on a breakaway for Trinidad & Tobago, yet Keller alertly raced off his line and smothered the opportunity.
End-to-end action provided the U.S. with another chance just seconds later and this time they would capitalize. Donovan cleverly dumped a short pass into the stride of left midfielder Lewis, who blasted a shot from long distance. Hislop dived to his left to try to make the save, but the shot had too much velocity and found its way into the right corner of the net.
The home side continued to fight and weren't far from cutting into the U.S. lead in the 65th minute. Kenwyne Jones shrugged off a challenge from former Dallas defender Cory Gibbs before hammering a low pass across the face of Keller's goal. But there was too much pace on the pass for John to be able to connect at the back post and the ball rolled out of the danger area.
Another FC Dallas player came into the game in the 71st minute when Cornell Glen came on for Trinidad & Tobago as a substitute. It took him only two minutes to get a look at goal, as he hit a well-struck shot towards the near post that Keller pushed wide.
Trinidad & Tobago got a late consolation goal when substitute Eve's deflected cross-cum-shot found its way past Keller at the near post, the U.S. 'keeper seeing the ball slip behind him as he dove out to cut out the ball.
The United States will continue the final round of World Cup with a match against archrival Mexico at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City on March 27. Arena's squad will then make its home debut in the final round when they take on Guatemala at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., three days later.
Jonathan Nierman is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.