Teenager Ricardo Pepi shines in USMNT debut, as USA beats Honduras 4-1
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras – Eighteen-year-old forward Ricardo Pepi and a number of highly effective second-half substitutes sparked the U.S. Men’s National Team to a 4-1 come-from-behind victory at Honduras in its third and final match of the September World Cup qualifying window.
The young U.S. attack exploded in the second half with a four-goal outburst in front of stunned fans at the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, earning the USMNT it’s third ever victory after trailing in an away World Cup Qualifier, and the second when trailing at halftime on the road.
The victory came with the USA’s youngest-ever starting XI in a World Cup qualifying match and boosts the U.S. into to a tie for second on points in the Octagonal standings. The USMNT will return to action during the October World Cup qualifying window, facing Jamaica in Austin, Texas, Panama in Panama City, Panama and Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio.
The USA struggled to connect passes and create chances in the first half, which bore little resemblance to the remarkable second half performance that earned the USA its first crucial road win during this World Cup qualifying cycle.
The Americans went behind in the 27th minute and entered halftime down 1-0. Needing a major rally, the young U.S. team delivered. U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter made three halftime substitutions including defender Antonee Robinson, who equalized less than three minutes after the restart for his first international goal in 15 appearances. The deft right-footed finish from the left-footer came on one of his first touches of the game.
Defender DeAndre Yedlin, who came on in the 73rd minute, teed up Pepi for the game-winner in the 75th as he became the youngest player in USMNT history to score in his senior team debut during World Cup qualifying. The emotional bump that the USA got while taking the lead then helped produce two more goals. Pepi continued to prove productive down the stretch, assisting midfielder Brenden Aaronson in the 86th minute then helped to set up midfielder Sebastian Lletget for a late insurance goal to secure the victory. Aaronson and Lletget also entered the game at halftime.
As is often the case in Concacaf World Cup qualifying, the first half presented a physical, stop-and-start affair. Honduras took the initiative early, holding the advantage in attacking chances as it outshot the USA 11-4 in the first half. While the U.S. created a few half-chances, including an attempt from Pepi sent over the bar in the 24th, Honduras delighted its home crowd with the first goal. Diego Rodriguez got free on the left wing and looped a short cross into the middle to unmarked Brayan Moya at the six and he dove to power his header into the lower right corner to send the home crowd into a frenzy.
The USA’s three changes at halftime made an instant impact. On a break down the right flank in the 48th minute, Lletget sent a hard-hit service into the box, Pepi got a touch on the ball and it spun to the lurking Robinson who was able to direct his classy finish into the right corner.
The U.S. goal significantly opened up the run of play as Honduras fired off two dangerous shots in the ensuing minutes. Lletget created another solid chance in the 54th, teeing up Pulisic for an on-target attempt that forced a diving save from Honduras goalkeeper Luis Lopez.
While U.S. goalkeeper Matt Turner also saw some action in the second half, including a nice diving save off a header in the 64th, the USMNT wore down Los Catrachos down the stretch and took control of the game. After midfielder Cristian Roldan came on for the injured Pulisic in the 62nd, Berhalter’s fifth and final sub in the 73rd – Yedlin – made another instant impact in the 75th, sending a perfect cross into the box from the right wing that found a leaping Pepi at the six-yard line and he powered his header into the lower right corner.
Playing with the lead, the U.S. attack put the game away with two nice transition goals. Pepi and Aaronson went on the break and combined for a goal in the 86th while Lletget finished off a blocked shot from Pepi for the game’s fourth and final goal in the third minute of stoppage time.
GOAL SCORING RUNDOWN
HON – Brayan Moya (Diego Rodriguez), 27th minute: Honduras attacked down the left wing and found Rodriguez. Playing with space, the winger put in a cross to the six-yard line that took a bounce before an unmarked Moya dove for it and headed it just inside the right post for the game’s opening goal. HON 1, USA 0
USA – Antonee Robinson (Ricardo Pepi), 48th minute: Maintaining possession with a Honduran draped on his back at midfield, Pepi laid it off for Christian Pulisic who drove downfield on the dribble, also with a Honduran defender in tow. The Chelsea forward found Sebastian Lletget at the top right corner of the box and sent a pass inside six-yard box for Pepi, who got a touch on it, and it spun back to Robinson on the left side of the six. The left back volleyed it to the opposite post past a diving Luis Lopez to draw the USA even. HON 1, USA 1
USA – Ricardo Pepi (DeAndre Yedlin), 75th minute: With the USMNT on the attack, Yedlin received the ball beyond the top right corner of the box just two minutes after entering the match and sent a service into the box. Pepi rose above a crowd 10 yards out from goal to head the game-winning goal just inside the right post. HON 1, USA 2
USA – Brenden Aaronson (Ricardo Pepi), 86th minute: Winning the ball in Honduras territory, Pepi and Aaronson pushed the ball downfield in transition. Charging downfield as two Honduras defenders closed in, Pepi squared a pass to the wide-open Aaronson at the penalty spot and one-timed a hard-hit shot past Lopez to cushion the American advantage. HON 1, USA 3
USA – Sebastian Lletget, 90+3rd minute: Tyler Adams sparked this attack after taking the ball into the Honduras half, driving forward and finding Pepi on the left side of the field. The young forward took a touch inside and dribbled into the box before ripping a shot at Lopez, who did well to knock the shot down but he gave up a tasty rebound which rolled to the onrushing Lletget and he slotted home from three yards near the end line for the game’s final goal. HON 1, USA 4
KEY SAVES AND DEFENSIVE STOPS
HON – Luis Lopez, 54th minute: As the game opened up following Antonee Robinson’s equalizer, Aaronson sparked a dangerous chance by playing to Lletget, who laid it off to Christian Pulisic near the top right corner of the box. Pulisic hit a hard-rolling shot to the left post, but Lopez dove to make a save and keep things level. HON 1, USA 1
USA – Matt Turner and Antonee Robinson, 64th minute: After a corner kick, the ball bounced out beyond the box and Honduras served it into the crowd near the penalty spot once again, where Andy Najar headed it squarely on goal. Turner dove to his left to deflect the ball and Robinson took possession and cleared it away to evade the danger. HON 1, USA 1
- The three-goal victory is tied for the largest tied margin of victory in a final round away qualifier (June 8, 2005, a 3-0 win at Panama).
- This was the 27th career win for Gregg Berhalter, moving him past Steve Sampson and into sole possession of fifth all-time on head coaching wins list, just three back of Bora Milutinović (30).
- The USA is now 18-4-5 all-time against Honduras and 7-2-2 in World Cup Qualifying. The team is 4-2-2 in away qualifiers in Honduras, with the four away wins standing as the most by the team in qualifiers played in Central America.
- With tonight’s win, the USMNT’s unbeaten streak reached 12 games (10-0-2).
- With an average age of 23 years, 85 days, tonight’s Starting XI was the youngest in World Cup qualifying history during the modern era and tied for the youngest USMNT lineup in official competition with the Starting XI that faced Martinique in this summer’s Concacaf Gold Cup on July 15, 2021.
- The previous youngest WCQ Starting XI was 23 years, 190 days on Oct. 12, 2005 against Panama – a match played after the USMNT had already qualified for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.
- Gregg Berhalter made five changes to the Starting XI that faced Canada on Sunday, inserting defenders George Bello and Mark McKenzie, midfielder James Sands and forwards Ricardo Pepi and Josh Sargent.
- Pepi made his senior team debut tonight, becoming the second youngest USMNT player to appear in a World Cup Qualifier after only Christian Pulisic (17 years, 193 days) who also made his debut in a World Cup qualifier, on March 29, 2016 vs. Guatemala.
- Pepi is the second-youngest player to score in a World Cup qualifier behind Pulisic.
- Pepi is the fourth-youngest player to score in his USMNT debut, trailing only Juan Agudelo, Sargent and Landon Donovan.
- Pepi is the first USMNT player to score while making his international debut in a World Cup qualifying match since Eddie Johnson in 2004. He’s the youngest to score while making his debut in WCQ.
- In addition to Pepi, three players made their WCQ debuts tonight: Bello, McKenzie and Sands. In total, 16 players earned their first appearance in a WCQ during the three-match window.
- Pulisic captained the USMNT for the second straight match and sixth time overall. The team is 5-1-1 when Pulisic wears the armband.
- Goalkeeper Matt Turner made his ninth consecutive start and has conceded just three goals in 10 appearances with the USMNT.
- Kellyn Acosta appeared in his 17th consecutive match for the USMNT. The only player to feature in all 16 matches in 2021, Acosta’s streak dates back to Dec. 9, 2020 vs. El Salvador.
-U.S. Men’s National Team Match Report-
Match: United States Men’s National Team vs. Honduras
Date: September 8, 2021
Competition: Concacaf 2022 FIFA World Cup Qualifying
Venue: Estadio Olímpico Metropolitano; San Pedro Sula, Honduras
Kickoff: 10:30 p.m. ET / 8:30 p.m. local
Weather: 81 degrees; partly cloudy
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 0 4 4
HON 1 0 1
HON – Bryan Moya (Diego Rodríguez) 27th minute
USA – Antonee Robinson (Ricardo Pepi) 48
USA – Ricardo Pepi (DeAndre Yedlin) 75
USA – Brenden Aaronson (Ricardo Pepi) 86
USA – Sebastian Lletget 90+3
USA: 1-Matt Turner; 12-Miles Robinson, 6-John Brooks (17-Sebastian Lletget, 46), 15-Mark McKenzie; 4-Tyler Adams, 16-James Sands (2-DeAndre Yedlin, 73), 23-Kellyn Acosta, 21-George Bello (5-Antonee Robinson, 46); 9-Josh Sargent (11-Brenden Aaronson, 46), 14-Ricardo Pepi, 10-Christian Pulisic (Capt.) (7-Cristian Roldan, 62)
Substitutes not used: 18-Ethan Horvath, 22-Sean Johnson, 3-Walker Zimmerman, 13-Tim Ream, 8-Jackson Yueill, 19-Jordan Pefok, 20-Konrad de la Fuente
Head coach: Gregg Berhalter
HON: 22-Luis López; 17-Andy Nájar, 4-Marcelo Pereira (11-Eddie Hernández, 81), 3-Maynor Figueroa (Capt.), 23-Diego Rodríguez; 7-Carlos Pineda (19-José Garcia, 46), 15-Kervin Arriaga, 20-Deybi Flores (6-Bryan Acosta, 73), 21-Jonathan Rubio (10-Rigoberto Rivas, 46); 9-Anthony Lozano (12-Romell Quioto, 46), 13-Bryan Moya
Substitutes not used: 1-Edrick Menjívar, 18-Marlon Licona, 2-Allans Vargas, 5-Danilo Acosta, 16-Johnny Leverón, 14-Boniek García, 8-Edwin Solano
Head coach: Fabián Coito
Stats Summary: USA / HON
Shots: 12 / 18
Shots on Goal: 8 / 3
Saves: 2 / 4
Corner Kicks: 4 / 3
Fouls: 16 / 11
Offside: 1 / 0
Referee: Fernando Hernandez Gomez (MEX)
Assistant Referee 1: Alberto Morin (MEX)
Assistant Referee 2: Miguel Hernandez (MEX)
4th Official: Diego Montano (MEX)
Man of the Match: Ricardo Pepi