Dempsey and Pulisic Shine in USMNT WCQ Win Over Honduras

The U.S. Men’s National Team were up against a wall, having fallen to the bottom of CONCACAF’s FIFA World Cup Qualifying standings, a beloved coach returned, a slew of injuries struck starters and veterans returned to the pitch after a long absence. It was a night written for rebirth stories and by the end of it, the U.S. had claimed 6 goals, Clint Dempsey proved his physical heart couldn’t stand in the way of a his soccer heart, Tim Howard reclaimed his ‘wall’ status with a clean sheet, an 18-year-old No. 10 took the helm as playmaker and the team moved back up in the table ahead of Trinidad & Tobago and Honduras into 5th place.

The rain-drenched goalfest had an early start with Sebastian Lletget tapping in a Christian Pulisic rebound. It was the USMNT’s earliest Hex goal since Brian McBride’s in 2002 against Trinidad and Tobago. It was Lletget’s first goal for his nation and his first-ever appearance in a World Cup Qualifier, however short-lived it was. The run of play goal was a sign of things to come for the home team and the impending fall of struggling Hondoran side in a lopsided night. In the 27th minute, holding midfielder and captain Michael Bradley notched a goal off an assist from Alejandro Bedoya who came in as a substitute for Lletget who was injured in 17th minute. Overall, Honduras gave Tim Howard easy four on-target goal attempts to contend with while the U.S. dominated the attack for the majority of the night. Before the first half was over, the men in red had another moment in the net courtesy of the Deuce. Clint Dempsey, who returned to the pitch after missing the qualifiers in October due to an irregular heartbeat, came in with both barrels loaded, proudly saluting the fans after scoring the first of three in the 32nd minute off a Pulisic lob.

Any chance of a Honduran counter was wiped away within seconds of the start of the next half. Pulisic, who had tallied an assist and an unintended assist (in the first goal that Lletget finished), hushed critics who often call him too slow and calculated to be a real No. 10, netted one of his own off a masterfully placed assist from Jozy Altidore. After the match, coach Bruce Arena noted the decision to place Pulisic in the pivotal role, though not unique, came at the right time. “I think he’s been exceptional [as a No. 10] the last couple months with his club team. It’s clearly a position he’s played a lot, and I felt it was the right decision to make.”

The U.S. continued on their scoring blitz with Clint Dempsey emphatically playing the role he has always relished, scoring leader. In the 46th minute, he’d lived up to his nickname with a strike off of a perfectly weighted pass from the rising midfielder in a pairing that looked just as smooth as in their 32nd-minute goal. Given the natural fit of Pulisic and Dempsey, one cannot help but wonder what the U.S.’s fate would have been had Dempsey been available to play in October of 2016. Dempsey, player of the match, took home the accolade of having the final word – a spectacular free kick that sailed over the head of a helpless Donis Escober, in the 54th minute.

With the hat trick Clint blazed into a tie with Jozy Altidore for a World Cup Qualifier goals (16) and is a mere two-goals shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time record for the MNT. Whatever doubts remained about Dempsey’s health vanished into the fog that hung low along the distant Diablo Range. Fans, eager to pounce on the unassailable win, were just as willing to put aside doubts about the entire team, shouting “USA, USA, USA” and lingering outside the stadium well after the match ended in the relentless rain.

The USMNT now head to Panama to face Los Canaleros who are just a point ahead of the red, white and blue on Tuesday March 28th and Estadio Rommel Fernandez in Panama City.

 

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