SAINT PAUL, Minn. — The USMNT beat Honduras 3-0 in the 11th game of the 14-match World Cup qualifying Octagonal on Wednesday, leaving the U.S. with 21 points and Honduras with 3. Here are my three thoughts on the game:
• The U.S. finally, finally got its set-pieces going. Central to the U.S.’s identity over the years has been scoring on set-pieces. But the team’s set-piece performance during the first 10 games of World Cup qualifying had been miserable, with zero goals scored off dead-ball situations. Time after time, set-piece deliveries—whether from Brenden Aaronson or Christian Pulisic or anyone else—were poorly taken or didn’t even clear the first defender. But Kellyn Acosta, under significant pressure replacing the injured Tyler Adams, did a phenomenal job on his deliveries, and the U.S. scored its first three set-piece goals of the tournament through Weston McKennie (in the 7th minute), Walker Zimmerman (in the 36th) and second-half sub Pulisic (in the 68th). Even when Pulisic came on, Acosta kept taking the set-pieces, which is smart. For a team that has been struggling to score first-half goals, the two early restart strikes dialed down the angst-meter for U.S. fans in a game where three points was a must.
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• The U.S.’s depth came up big. Don’t get me wrong, an established star like McKennie was huge again on Wednesday, continuing his run of remarkable form and driving this U.S. team forward when it was needed most. But we also learned that in a game in frigid conditions where winning was paramount, the U.S. can trust several players who aren’t usually considered among the team’s Best XI. For various reasons, the U.S. started without Pulisic, Adams, Sergiño Dest, Yunus Musah and Aaronson. But they got solid to standout performances from Luca de la Torre, Acosta and Jordan Morris. There will be a lot of talk about U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter dropping Pulisic, his biggest star, for an important game, but nobody should be guaranteed a starting place, and Pulisic (who had logged a lot of minutes in the previous two games) still came on and scored a goal.
• One more win in the final three games should be enough to send the U.S. to the World Cup. The job isn’t done yet, obviously, but a win over Panama at home in March would likely be enough to clinch a U.S. berth at Qatar 2022 no matter what happens in the other two games, tough road assignments at Mexico and Costa Rica. We also know for sure that the big rivalry game at Mexico which kicks off the next qualifying window will come at a time when neither team has clinched a World Cup spot, so that match should be played at a fever pitch. This qualifying window has not been without its high-pressure moments for the U.S., and that was certainly the case in the last few days after the loss at Canada. But this was a convincing performance and result that will ease tensions ahead of the March window. And I think you can feel fairly certain that Pulisic will start the next game in Mexico.
What were your thoughts on the game? You can share them in the comments below. Make sure to sign up (free or paid) to get my posts in your inbox, and come back at 9 am ET for my magazine-style story on the game.
I agree Luca de la Torre played a great game. His speed and quickness was evident while defending and attacking. I don't know if his spot on the team is matchup dependent but he made use of his opportunity.
Let’s not get carried away. It was Honduras. There are reasons they’re last in the group without a single win.
Let’s not get carried away. While McKennie’s header was a thing of beauty, the other 2 were in the “look what I found” category. Still, they count. Better than it has been. Acosta was terrific, but if Adams was healthy he probably wouldn’t have started.
The pace of ball movement was SLOOOOOW. They won’t get a result at Azteca unless they play a LOT faster. Good to see the urgency tonight.