In a hard-fought CONCACAF World Cup qualifier on Wednesday, teen attacker Ricardo Pepi spurred a second-half comeback as the United States rallied from behind to defeat Honduras 4-1.
Pepi, an 18-year-old FC Dallas forward, scored a critical header to put the United States ahead 2-1 and then assisted on three more goals to give the Americans their first win of CONCACAF’s final round of qualifiers after two ties.
In a lackluster first 45 minutes, US coach Gregg Berhalter’s team had been outplayed, with Honduras taking the lead on 27 minutes thanks to a Brayan Moya header.
After starting the game with an odd 5-2-3 line-up, Berhalter rung the changes at halftime, bringing on Antonee Robinson, Brenden Aaronson, and Sebastian Lletget and switching to a more adventurous 4-3-3 formation.
Robinson equalized with a cushioned finish in the 48th minute after Pepi’s decoy run to the near post bewildered the Honduran defense.
After DeAndre Yedlin’s fantastic cross from the right side, former Mexico youth international Pepi headed the US into the lead on 75 minutes to make it 2-1.
Pepi then set up Aaronson for an 86th-minute goal, squaring to the Red Bull Salzburg forward, who finished confidently to put the game out of reach.
Pepi’s low drive was parried by Honduras goalkeeper Luis Lopez and fell into the path of Lletget, who tucked away at the far post.
Berhalter’s risk with an untested starting lineup in a game that had become a must-win following opening draws against El Salvador and Canada yielded a much-needed three points in the second half.
For much of the first half, it appeared as if Berhalter’s tactical experiment would fail, with Honduras outrunning the US midfield and gaining a merited lead midway through the half, with the American defense trembling.
But Berhalter’s half-time lineup overhauled the US, who had started the game without injured Borussia Dortmund star Gio Reyna and suspended Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie, who had been sent home for violating Covid-19 regulations.
The only blemish on a fantastic second-half performance was an injury to Chelsea captain Christian Pulisic, who hobbled out in the 62nd minute.
After three games and five points, the United States is third in the eight-team CONCACAF qualification standings.
Mexico leads the rankings with seven points from three games after a 1-1 draw with Panama earlier Wednesday. After a 3-0 win over El Salvador in Toronto, Canada is in second place with five points after three games.
In other games on Wednesday, Costa Rica and Jamaica drew 1-1 in San Jose.