Sergino Dest (left) set up Ricardo Pepi’s first goal. (Chuck Burton-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Teenager Ricardo Pepi continued a dream start to his international career Thursday night – in duplicate.

The 18-year-old forward struck twice within a 13-minute span in the second half as the United States recorded its first home win of the World Cup qualifying Octagonal, a 2-0 victory over Jamaica in Austin, Texas.

That result boosted the Americans to its second consecutive qualifying win and into first place in the Octagonal with a 2-0-2 record and eight points. Mexico has similar numbers, but the USMNT has a better goal differential (plus five to plus two). Last-place Jamaica (1) fell to 0-3-1 with head coach Ted Whitmore’s job in serious jeopardy with another defeat.

“It’s also about the intensity that we played,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It was really just nice to watch that type of output of energy and running and competing. Besides the soccer side, but also overall happy with the gam. We have two more games in this window.”

Berhalter reminded the media his team cannot afford to get too high with three games in seven days. His team plays in Panama Sunday night before hosting Costa Rica Oct. 13.

“When we look at this game, it’s only one game of a three game window so we can’t get too carried away,” he said. “It was excellent application. It was excellent intensity. Everything was pretty good about this game. The trap is going to be us thinking we’re great and us thinking that we’ve qualified for the World Cup. And if we do that we’ll get our ass kicked in Panama on Sunday. For us it’s about how do you bring that again. That’s going to be the challenge for us.”

Pepi who plays for FC Dallas in the northern part of the state, became the youngest U.S. men’s national team player to score in two consecutive matches in modern history after finding the net once and assisting on two other goals in the 4-1 triumph in Honduras last month.

The winning goal sequence was set up by a quick build-up by the hosts down the right side. The ball eventually came to Sergino Dest and the right back slotted a cross to Pepi, who headed it past goalkeeper Andre Blake from seven yards.

Brenden Aaronson, who enjoyed an active evening on attack, set up Pepi’s second goal, sending him a pass from the left flank that the teenager slotted past Blake for a two-goal advantage in the 62nd minute.

“The team felt like Jamaica was so compact [in the first half,” Pepi said. “We needed to go to the wings. We took advantage of our opportunities.”

Well, actually Pepi did.

Those two goals certainly energized the Americans, who continued to attack for he rest of the match, but could not find the range to add to their spoils.

The Jamaicans dodged a major bullet in the opening minute when left back Kemar Lawrence, a former Red Bull, took down an onrushing Paul Arriola in the attacking zone. After consulting with assistant referee Iroots Appleton, referee Reon Radix awarded Lawrence a yellow card although it looked like a red-card offense.

The USMNT had possession for huge swarths of the opening half, but could not create any dangerous chances. Every time the Americans tried to get the ball into the middle for a shot on target, Jamaica managed to thwart every opportunity by knocking the ball away or clearing it.

In another close call between a yellow and red card, Damion Lowe took down a charging Brenden Aaronson at the edge of the penalty area in the 33rd minute. Radix awarded a yellow card. On the ensuing free kick, Weston McKennie smashed a shot that was deflected by Lawrence for a corner kick.

Jamaica made the USA sweat on a couple of occasions. Jamal Lowe smacked a hard shot that goalkeeper Matt Turner knocked away in the 41st minute. Four minutes later, Shamar Nicholson headed a corner kick just wide of the mark.