Ricardo Pepi has scored three goals in his last two USMNT matches. (USA TODAY Sports)
ORLANDO, Fla. – The U.S. men’s national team secured a return to the Concacaf Nations League Final Four with a 1-0 win against El Salvador on Monday night at Exploria Stadium.
Ricardo Pepi’s third goal in two games – which came two minutes after he entered the match in the second half – was the difference as the USA finished atop Group D with 10 points. The win extended the USA’s undefeated streak against El Salvador to 22 straight games.
El Tren with the chip 👌
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 28, 2023
Having won the inaugural CNL in 2021, the USA will return to the 2022-23 semifinals which will be played Thursday, June 15 at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada. Mexico has also clinched a semifinal berth after winning Group A with eight points. The other semifinalists will be decided on Tuesday, March 28 when Costa Rica and Panama meet for the top spot in Group B and Canada hosts Honduras with Group C on the line. The group winner with the most points will face the fourth-ranked team, and the second and third ranked teams will meet in the other semifinal.
Anthony Hudson made seven changes to the Starting XI that defeated Grenada on Friday, inserting defenders Sergiño Dest, Antonee Robinson, Miles Robinson and Tim Ream, midfielder Yunus Musah, and forwards Daryl Dike and Alex Zendejas.
The group faced a disciplined and determined El Salvador side, which nearly took the lead after two minutes when Jairo Henriquez ripped a shot from the top of the box that forced USA goalkeeper Matt Turner to fully extend low to his left to parry the ball out for a corner kick.
The teams played a well-contested opening half, with neither side allowing the other much space or time to pose serious threats. One of the USA’s best opportunities came after 29 minutes when Gio Reyna cut inside from the left and hit a low shot from nearly 30 yards that forced La Selecta goalkeeper Mario Gonzalez to dive low to make the save.
The USA started the second half with more urgency, and Reyna again almost put the USMNT ahead nearly off the opening whistle. Christian Pulisic played a nice ball into the box that Reyna collected on the left, saw space as he faced goal and cut a shot that was deflected and clanked off the near post.
With the USA applying pressure, defender Tim Ream then got on the end of a loose ball in the box that defender Roberto Dominguez took off the chest a few yards from goal. Teammate Nelson Blanco attempted to clear it out of danger, but inadvertently headed back towards goal, where Dominguez headed it out before it crossed the goal line.
The break finally came just past the hour mark – two minutes after Pepi and Brenden Aaronson entered the match – when McKennie sprung Pepi behind the defense with an incisive through ball to set up his sixth international goal with a composed chip to beat the keeper.
The USA looked in control for most of the half and nearly doubled the lead with five minutes left when Pepi brought down a cross from Sergiño Dest in front of goal with a deft touch; however, his shot from close range was stopped by Gonzalez.