Antonee Robinson scored for the USMNT. (Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis
FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

The situation looked dire for the United States.

The Americans’ best player, Christian Pulisic, had limped off the field with a leg injury with the game knotted up at 1-1, and it seemed they would remain winless after three World Cup qualifying matches.

But Ricardo Pepi had some other ideas.

The 18-year-old FC Dallas forward scored a goal that snapped a 1-1 draw and lift and created an insurance tally as the USA stormed back with four second-half goals for a stunning 4-1 comeback victory over Honduras at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano in San Pedro Sula, Honduras Wednesday night.

The victory salvaged the U.S. men’s national team’s stumbling and poor start to WCQ after it accrued only two points in two draws in its opening matches. The USA, which moved into a third-place tie with Canada and Panama, is unbeaten after its three matches at 1-0-2 and five points.

It also was only the second time in 41 WCQs in which the USA overcame a halftime deficit to win. The Americans are now 2-33-6 in those matches.

Pepi, who did not play in those two contests, made the most of a rare opportunity, heading home, a DeAndre Yedlin Feed in the 75th minute. He became the first USMNT player to score in his debut since Eddie Johnson did that in 2004.

After Cristian Roldan, a second-half substitute, stole the ball from a Honduran player at midfield, Pepi motored down the right flank and slipped the ball to second-half sub Brenden Aaronson for a 3-1 advantage in the 86th minute.

Another substitute, Sebastian Lletget added a fourth goal, a tap-in three minutes into stoppage time.

The Americans were winless in their last six away qualifying matches, and also failed to win in their last three WCQs.

USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter shook up his lineup from the opening two WCQ matches, deploying a 5-2-3 formation. From left to right, George Bello, Mark McKenzie, John Brooks, Miles Robinson and Tyler Adams composed the back five, with the outside backs overlappping. James Sands and Kellyn Acosta were in the midfield and Christian Pulisic, Ricardo Pepi and Josh Sargent were up front.

Four players, who averaged 20-years-old made their WCQ debuts – Bello, McKenzie, Sands and Pepi.

The first half turned out to be a disaster for the USMNT, which was outshot by the Hondurans, who took a well-deserved 1-0 lead into the locker room.

They celebrated their goal in the 27th minute, going on a quick counterattack after a USA turnover in the midfield. With shoddy marking by Brooks and Bello, Diego Rodriguez sent a right-wing cross into the box as an unmarked Brayan Moya’s diving head beat goalkeeper Matt Turner.

The half featured end-to-end by two teams desperate to register their first Octagonal win. The USA tried some long balls early on, but to no avail, although a long boot by Adams from out of the back caused a collsion between goalkeeper Luis Lopez and Marcelo Pereira in the 11th minute.

The USMNT came out strong in the opening five minutes – an overlapping Bello shot wide right only 16 seconds into the match – before the Hondurans kept the Americans’ defense busy by pushing ahead.

Essentially, the U.S. had no midfield and Los Catrachos took advantage of that with possession and shots. Brooks and Bello lost concentration on the goal and on some other plays and Adams, usually a rock as a central midfielder, looked like a fish out of water at right back.

After the disastrous opening 45 minutes, Berhalter shifted the team back to a 4-3-3 by pulling Brooks, Bello and Sargent for Antonee Robinson, Sebastian Lletget and Brenden Aaronson.

Three minutes into the second half, the strategy proved to be successful as Robinson scored his first international from six yards. Robinson was so excited by the goal that he did a back flip in celebration.

Until then, the USA had scored but once over 228 minutes in WCQ in this cycle.

Robinson’s equalizer, however, was muted by the fact Pulisic, the USMNT’s best attacker, was forced from the game with a leg injury in the 62nd minute. Cristian Roldan replaced him as Pulisic threw his captain’s armband to a teammate.