Pepi makes case with stellar displaying

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AUSTIN, Texas — Within the 68th minute of the USA’ 2-0 win against Jamaica on Thursday evening, striker Ricardo Pepi seemed to the sideline and noticed his quantity on the substitution board. Along with his evening over, he calmly trotted towards the bench, and as he did the American followers at Q2 Stadium rose to their toes.

Some cheered wildly, others chanted his identify.

“Pe-pi, Pe-pi, Pe-pi.”

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Two months in the past, the second may need appeared fantastical and for Pepi it nonetheless probably appeared surreal. However after scoring two second-half targets to present the United States a commanding lead in an necessary World Cup qualifying match, Pepi earned his hero’s exit.

“It is a particular feeling having the ability to simply rating right here in Texas,” mentioned Pepi, an El Paso native who dedicated to the U.S. over Mexico in August. “Not simply right here in Texas, however in entrance of our followers. It is an incredible feeling.”

At 18 years outdated, Pepi turned the youngest participant in USMNT historical past to attain in back-to-back video games and the second youngest — behind solely Christian Pulisic — to have a multigoal sport in a World Cup qualifier.

His play within the second half in opposition to Honduras final month rescued the USA after two attracts to open the qualifying marketing campaign, and his efficiency in Austin ensured the alternatives will hold coming. The pattern is sufficiently small to warning in opposition to overreaction, however Pepi’s emergence has been essentially the most emphatic the group has seen on the place in years.

“We’re all excited,” Berhalter mentioned. “For us, we’re simply sitting there and we’re on the practice. He is an 18-year-old who will get a chance, takes benefit. What you see and I feel what I actually like is that he has this intuition, and it is actually exhausting to show that to gamers.”

Pepi’s first objective got here within the forty ninth minute encapsulated why optimism about the way forward for U.S. Soccer has by no means been stronger. The play began with 20-year-old Barcelona right-back Sergino Dest passing centrally to 18-year-old Valencia midfielder Yunus Musah simply over the midfield line. He drove the ball ahead and as he approached the penalty field, he performed it again out to Dest, whose cross discovered Pepi’s head to place the U.S. in entrance.

13 minutes later, 24-year-old Fulham left again Antonee Robinson performed 20-year-old FC Salzburg ahead Brenden Aaronson in area, who performed an ideal ball to Pepi’s toes. The FC Dallas striker had misplaced his man and calmly completed, sending the stadium into hysteria.

“I feel he is actually grown into this striker that’s simply so lethal within the field,” Aaronson mentioned. “He is somebody that is at all times round. For a midfielder/winger, what I’m, it is a dream to play with a striker like him as a result of he’ll be in these spots.”

The U.S. beginning XI was the second youngest (common age 23 years, 111 days) it has ever fielded for a World Cup qualifier (common age 23 years, 111 days), behind solely the lineup Berhalter used the final day out.

Musah was one other participant who stood out, making a constructive impression in his first World Cup qualifier. He obtained an inconclusive COVID-19 take a look at Wednesday morning, leaving his availability in query till the group dinner that evening when Berhalter obtained the all clear. Out of necessity, Musah performs on the wing for Valencia however is extra at residence centrally, which is the place he was deployed in opposition to Jamaica as a part of a midfield three that additionally included Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie. His means to progress the ball on the dribble is an attribute the group has lacked and figures to play a significant position for the remainder of qualification.

With Jamaica on the backside of the qualifying standings, it was the kind of sport the U.S. ought to have anticipated to win, however there was nonetheless a powerful sense of satisfaction with the way in which the group performed.

Even with out star forwards Giovanni Reyna and Pulisic, each of whom are unavailable resulting from harm, the USA managed Thursday’s sport from begin to end.

Within the sport’s opening 20 seconds, Paul Arriola was performed in behind by Pepi solely to be pulled down by defender Kemar Lawrence about 12 yards exterior of the penalty field. There was nobody between Arriola and objective, leading to shouts for a pink card, however after conferring with the linesman, the referee — Reon Radix of Grenada, who was working his first World Cup qualifier — confirmed Lawrence yellow.

Radix was compelled into one other tough choice within the thirty third minute when Aaronson was tackled from behind by Damion Lowe, inches exterior the field and free on objective. Lowe appeared to get the ball cleanly, however Radix’s choice made it clear he disagreed, which made it one other curious choice when he, once more, confirmed yellow.

The U.S. wasn’t capable of make use of both ensuing free kick, elevating questions of why CONCACAF hasn’t made the required funding all through the area to make sure VAR will be applied in qualifying. It would not be a difficulty in any venue in the USA, the place VAR has been utilized in Main League Soccer since 2017, however the lack of infrastructure in some member nations is preventative, based on the Federation.

McKennie’s return to the lineup was introduced Wednesday and whereas he did not stand out, Berhalter was largely happy with what he known as a “skilled job.” After being despatched again to Juventus early final window for violating COVID-19 protocols, his reintegration into the squad was an necessary hurdle to clear because the group places that chapter behind it.

Following Mexico‘s 1-1 draw with Canada, the USA is tied atop the qualifying standings with El Tri, as each groups have eight factors by 4 video games. The Individuals will journey to Panama to play on Sunday, earlier than returning residence to shut the window in opposition to Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio, on Wednesday.