Weston McKennie celebrates his first-half goal. (Harrison Barden-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Finally, on a frigid night in northern Minnesota, the U.S. men’s national team heated up.
The Americans struck twice in the opening half and rode that advantage to a 3-0 World Cup qualifying victory over Honduras in freezing temperatures at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn.
The win solidified the USA’s hold on second place in the Concacaf Octagonal with a 6-2-3 mark and 21 points as the team made its quest to reach Qatar much easier. Last-place Honduras remained winless (0-8-3, 3).
The temperature at kickoff was five degrees – it was zero at the final whistle – with a wind-chill factor of minus 12.
Weston McKennie, Walker Zimmerman and second-half substitute Christian Pulisic supplied the goals for the USMNT, which tallied twice in the opening half for the first time in 11 qualifiers.
It also was the most the Americans had scored at home in six qualifying matches. They found the net four times in a 4-1 win at Honduras on Sept. 8. All three goals came via set pieces.
Goalkeeper Matt Turner, who wasn’t tested, recorded his 11th clean sheet in 16 international appearances.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter made seven changes in his Starting XI from Sunday’s 2-0 loss at Canada. Pulisic and defender Sergino Dest were among those on the bench. Jordan Morris, who had seen all of 295 minutes of action for club and country in 2021, replaced Pulisic in the lineup.
Only two minutes after kickoff, the match had its first controversy as referee Oshane Nation (Jamaica) told USA goalkeeper Matt Turner to remove a pouch that he was wearing on the back of his uniform. The pouch was given to Turner by the Minnesota Vikings.
The Americans scored only their third goal in the first half in 11 qualifiers in the eighth minute.
Kellyn Acosta sent in a long free kick from the right side to McKennie, who performed his specialty by heading the ball home from eight yards at the near post past goalkeeper Luiz Lopez to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. McKennie, who has nine international goals, has scored several goals via his head for his Italian Serie A club team, Juventus.
Weah, who could not play in Canada due to vaccination restrictions, almost doubled the lead in the 20th minute. He fired a curving shot toward the lower right corner that Lopez barely got his left hand on. Nation, however, gave the Hondurans a goal kick instead of an American corner kick.
A few minutes later, Weah was stopped by Lopez in front of the net after latching onto an Acosta feed.
Forward Ricardo Pepi came close in the 29th minute as he volleyed Antonee Robinson’s left-wing cross over the crossbar from 12 yards.
Acosta came through again on another long free kick, although this one came from the left side. He ripped the ball into the box through several players. Zimmerman, a center back who captained the squad for the match, spun around and tucked the ball into the lower right corner from three yards for a two-goal advantage.
That gave the USA four first-half goals in qualifying.
The only other times the USMNT had found the net in the opening half was Dest in the 2-1 home win over Costa Rica on Oct. 13 and Tim Weah in a 1-1 draw at Jamaica on Nov. 16.
Pulisic entered the match in the 65th minute and seconds after replacing Morris he was fouled. He got his revenge only two minutes later with his second touch of the match.
Again, Acosta originated the scoring sequence on a corner kick. Pepi nodded it to Zimmerman as the ball deflected to Pulisic, who slotted the ball home from 10 yards into the left side past keeper Edrick Menjívar. Menjívar replaced Lopez at the half.
— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) February 3, 2022
It was Pulisic’s second qualifying goal and 18th international goal, surpassing Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley and Earnie Stewart for the 10th most in USMNT history.
The USA will have off almost a two-month break from qualifying before resuming in March.
The squad will play at Mexico on March 24, host Panama in Orlando, Fla on March 27 and close out the schedule at Costa Rica on March 30.