With its back firmly against the wall, the U.S. MNT responded in the best possible fashion, crushing Honduras 6-0 Friday night at Avaya Stadium in San Jose, California to move from the sixth, and last, position in the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers (The Hex) to fourth.
34-year-old hat-trick hero Clint Dempsey and 18-year-old wunderkind Christian Pulisic were the key figures for the Americans, along with coach Bruce Arena, who was managing his first meaningful game for the U.S. MNT since he was fired after the 2006 World Cup.
As this match approached there was a sense of nervous anticipation among U.S. soccer followers with the Americans facing a virtual must-win situation, having dropped the first two games of the Hex back in November.
A loss, or even a tie to Honduras, would have severely hurt the Yanks chances of advancing to the 2018 World Cup in Russia but the U.S. responded with its best Hex performance in years.
Despite an injury crisis that cost the Americans three presumptive starters in Fabian Johnson, Bobby Wood, and DeAndre Yedlin, Arena showed confidence in his side, sending the team out in an attacking formation that featured Pulisic in the number 10, playmaker role and the veteran Dempsey up front alongside Jozy Altidore.
The lineup also featured Sebastian Lletget and Darlington Nagbe as wide midfielders in an offense first lineup that worked a charm. Pulisic and Dempsey’s roles showed Arena’s flexibility, the coach had previously said that he preferred Pulisic on the wing and that he envisioned Dempsey as a late sub.
But that was before the recent injury crisis that also kept Jordan Morris sidelined on Friday night. After this big win Arena explained in his typical fashion his decision to go with Dempsey from the opening whistle.
The American rout began in the fifth minute when Sebastian Lletget pounced on a rebounded effort from Pulisic, who reveled in the central role. Unfortunately, Lletget would go off in the 18th minute after taking the brunt of a tough tackle minutes earlier.
Michael Bradley followed with a left footed golazo in the 27th minute before Dempsey opened his hat-trick account in the 32 minute. Dempsey would add a pair of second half goals after Pulisic effectively ended the match with his goal seconds after the re-start.
This performance was just the tonic that the U.S. MNT needed and much of the credit will go to Arena for taking a team that looked disorganized and disinterested in November in losing to Mexico at home 2-1 and away to Costa Rica 4-0, and reanimating its World Cup qualification prospects.
Dempsey and Pulisic were the stars but it would be wrong to overlook Altidore, whose superb passing led to two goals. Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, fullbacks Jorge Villafana and Geoff Cameron also did well.
Up next for the U.S. is Panama on Tuesday in Panama City. Arena hopes that Brooks will be recovered after the effects of a sinus infection forced him off on Friday but it looks as if Lletget could face a spell on the sidelines, although details were scarce Friday night.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 3 3 6
HON 0 0 0
USA – Sebastian Lletget 5th minute
USA – Michael Bradley (Alejandro Bedoya) 27
USA – Clint Dempsey (Christian Pulisic) 32
USA – Christian Pulisic (Jozy Altidore) 46
USA – Clint Dempsey (Christian Pulisic) 49
USA – Clint Dempsey 54
USA: 1-Tim Howard; 2-Jorge Villafaña, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 6-John Brooks (14-Tim Ream, 70), 20-Geoff Cameron (19-Graham Zusi, 59); 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 9-Sebastian Lletget (11-Alejandro Bedoya, 18), 10-Christian Pulisic, 15-Darlington Nagbe; 8-Clint Dempsey, 17-Jozy Altidore
Subs not used: 12-David Bingham, 22-Nick Rimando; 5-Matt Besler, 7-DaMarcus Beasley, 21-Walker Zimmerman; 13-Kellyn Acosta, 16-Sacha Kljestan, 23-Dax McCarty; 18-Chris Wondolowski
Head coach: Bruce Arena
HON: 22-Donis Escober; 7-Emilio Izaguirre (14-Boniek Garcia, 46), 3-Maynor Figueroa (capt.), 4-Henry Figueroa, 5-Ever Alvarado, 21-Brayan Beckeles; 20-Jorge Claros, 15-Roger Espinoza; 12-Romell Quioto (11-Erick Andino, 43) 19-Alberth Elis, 17-Andy Najar (8-Oliver Morazan, 61)
Subs not used: 1-Luis Lopez, 18-Ricardo Canales, 2-Felix Crisianto, 6-Allans Vargas, 23-Cesar Oseguera; 10-Mario Martinez, 16-Carlos Disuca, 9-Anthony Lozano, 13-Eddie Hernandez
Head coach: Jorge Luis Pinto
Stats Summary: USA / HON
Shots: 9 / 11
Shots on Goal: 8 / 4
Saves: 4 / 2
Corner Kicks: 0 / 7
Fouls: 15 / 8
Offside: 2 / 2
HON – Ever Alvarado (caution) 15th minute
USA – Geoff Cameron (caution) 25
March 28, 2017 – 10 PM ET
MNT vs Panama Estadio Rommel Fernandez; Panama City, Panama
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