Chris Mueller (11) and El Salvador forward Enrico Hernandez (17) battle for the ball during the first half at Inter Miami CF Stadium. (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports)
FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It was no contest.
Heck, it wasn’t even a game.
The United States struck for five goals in lightning fashion within a 10-minute span in the opening 25 minutes as it rolled to a 6-0 victory past an over-matched El Salvadoran side at the Inter Miami CF Stadium Wednesday night.
Debutant forward Chris Mueller became just the sixth player to bag a brace in his first USMNT cap, netting two goals in five minutes, while fellow debutant forward Ayo Akinola added a goal of his own. Midfielder Brenden Aaronson also opened his international account with the final goal in the second half.
Following his recovery from a torn ACL suffered in February, forward Paul Arriola opened the scoring in his first start since the injury, while midfielder Sebastian Lletget tallied a goal in his second-straight match for the USA.
While the COVID-19 pandemic turned the international soccer calendar on its head in 2020, the USMNT finished undefeated in its four matches this year, going 3-0-1 and outscoring opponents 13-2.
Half of head coach Gregg Berhalter’s starting XI made its first or second appearance with the USA. In addition to Akinola and Mueller, defender Julian Araujo picked up his first cap as the starting right back. With Araujo providing the assist on Mueller’s second goal, every starting debutant got their name on the scoresheet.
After some promising early action, the USMNT found its breakthrough in the 17th minute off some nifty play by Mueller. On the run up the left wing, the Orlando City SC forward leapt over a defender attempting a tackle and slid a pass between two more onrushing Salvadorans to find Arriola near the penalty spot. Arriola rocketed a shot past El Salvador goalkeeper Henry Hernandez for his sixth international goal in the 17th minute.
Arriola’s goal sparked the USMNT’s hunger for more goals and catalyzed a number of more attacking opportunities, and the floodgates opened quickly thereafter. When a cross from Lletget deflected off El Salvador, Jackson Yueill put it quickly back in the box where Mueller fired it home in the 20 th minute for his first of the evening.
Lletget found a goal of his own three minutes later on an impressive individual run. Driving downfield after receiving a well-placed pass from midfielder Brenden Aaronson, Lletget drove past a number of Salvadoran defenders and chipped Hernandez from the top of the box.
Mueller bagged his brace in just five minutes of play off of a beautiful ball sent in by defender Julian Araujo in the 25th minute. The young right back took a moment to settle the ball just beyond the corner of the box before delivering a lovely looping pass to the far post, where Mueller met it with a diving header.
Another breakaway capped the USMNT’s first-half scoring frenzy. As three U.S. attackers charged down the field, Mueller unselfishly laid the ball off for an onrushing Akinola, who arrived with a first-time sliding shot tucked into the near post.
The offensive onslaught continued in the second half when Arriola found Aaronson with plenty of space at the top of the box in the 50th minute and he sent a hard-hit shot to the back of the net.
In the second half, two more players made their international debuts in outside backs Marco Farfan and Kyle Duncan. They formed part of a U.S. defense that also held strong down the stretch as the USA outshot Los Cuzcatlecos 20-3.
On a relatively quiet day, goalkeeper Bill Hamid was called upon to make a pair of saves midway through the second half and recorded his third solo shutout in his eighth international appearance with the help of some rock-solid play from his back line.
The USMNT will return to action in January 2021, kicking off a year that will feature the Concacaf Nations League Finals, the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup and the start of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup.