While the United States' game at Grenada on Friday represented the team's return to competitive soccer for the first time since the World Cup, the match -- as expected -- was anything but.
Ricardo Pepi scored twice -- including an early goal in the fourth minute -- opening the floodgates in a 7-1 win in CONCACAF Nations League play.
Weston McKennie also had two goals while Christian Pulisic played a major role with a score and a pair of assists. Brenden Aaronson and Alejandro Zendejas -- making his first appearance since committing to the U.S. over Mexico -- scored the other goals for a U.S. side under the charge of interim coach Anthony Hudson.
Myles Hippolyte's goal was the only consolation for the hosts.
1. Importance of MLS on display in rout
For the first time since MLS launched in 1996, an active player in the league did not feature in a USMNT game (Atlanta United's Miles Robinson is on the roster but was a healthy scratch). On the surface, that could come off as a negative for the league, but it's really not.
It speaks more to how the talent level is improving -- a development that MLS has played a major role in. Of the 11 starters, nine came through MLS academies and only two of those players -- Giovanni Reyna (NYCFC) and Weston McKennie (FC Dallas) -- opted to sign their first professional contracts abroad.
This cycle will continue. MLS will continue to do the lion's share of the player development in the country, those players will move on and the national team will benefit.
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2. Reyna's midfield role a good sign
The idea of Reyna playing centrally has always been appealing. But with the trio of Yunus Musah, Tyler Adams and McKennie having worked so well together, Reyna in the midfield never happened. Part of that was former coach Gregg Berhalter's preference, of course, but with Adams out of the squad due to injury, it provided an opportunity to experiment.
Reyna started as part of the midfield three in this match -- along with Luca de la Torre and McKennie -- and while he didn't impact the game on the scoresheet, it was an important exercise. He dropped deep to collect the ball at times and pushed forward to play more as a No. 10.
Perhaps more important than the tactical aspect of Reyna's game was that the game marked an important step forward from all the off-the-field noise that he's been attached to for the last few months.
3. Capping off win with several cap-ties
After committing his international future to the United States, Alejandro Zendejas is now officially cap-tied and marked the occasion with a beautiful goal to round out the scoring after he came on as a second-half substitute. Zendejas, who made his USMNT debut in a friendly against Serbia in January, was electric against Grenada and has the potential to be a major contributor.
Midfielder Johnny Cardoso was also cap-tied when he entered in the second half, though his impact on the game wasn't as pronounced. Auston Trusty, who has impressed with Birmingham City this season, also made his USMNT debut, partnering with his former Philadelphia Union teammate Mark McKenzie (whose now at Genk). Attacker Taylor Booth also received his debut and is cap-tied, as he was eligible to play for Italy.
Best and worst performers
Best: Christian Pulisic, FW, USA.
Pulisic was, by far, the best player on the field. Grenada was completely overmatched all over the field, but it was especially noticeable when the ball was at the captain's feet. He had two official assists, a (soft) goal and delivered another ball in that led to a goal in an easy night at the office.
Best: Ricardo Pepi, FW, USA.
After not being selected to the World Cup roster, Pepi's return to the team showcased why his future remains so bright. He scored a pair of goals and appears to be back on the right track.
Best: Weston McKennie, MF, USA.
McKennie in the box remains one of the team's best weapons. He also scored two goals.
Worst: Benjamin Ettienne, DF, Grenada.
Had a tough time with the U.S. playing down the left.
Worst: Jason Belfon, GK, Grenada.
Seven goals is seven goals. The one he conceded to Pulisic was particularly bad.
Worst: Kwazim Theodore, MF, Grenada.
It's a bit harsh to single out Grenada players here, but Theordore had a rough go.
Highlights and notable moments
Plenty of goals to choose from this lopsided scoreline, but Weston McKennie's first on the night was a nice display of athleticism.
Wes's first of the evening! 🪄 pic.twitter.com/ctjv9g65MB— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) March 25, 2023
Christian Pulisic was a force in the first half, wrecking havoc on the wing which led to two assists. He finally got on the scoreboard soon after the break. With 23 international goals, he is one shy of tying Joe-Max Moore for sixth most on the USMNT all-time scorers list.
That man ©️🅿️🔟 pic.twitter.com/jr9rsu1hOH— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) March 25, 2023
Alejandro Zendejas, who was the subject of a recruiting battle between the USMNT and Mexico, scored his first of his international career and the last on the evening of the visitors.
That man's left foot 🤌 pic.twitter.com/o2tOyYIgMp— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) March 25, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
USA interim coach Anthony Hudson, on the win: "A performance and a result like this can be -- you don't want to get carried away. The importance for us is just to make sure that we do all the right things between now and the next game and we finish the job off. But the actual performance, I thought it was the result of just a really, really good week.
"With the utmost respect to our opposition, we just felt that the defining factor was gonna be focus and mentality. And I think that part of it we were pleased with."
Hudson, on Christian Pulisic's performance: "I just can't speak highly enough of the character of this person who not only is a talented player, but someone that I can assure you, he just absolutely loves playing for his country. He is inspiring to the rest of the group."
Pulisic, on the victory: "We knew that they weren't just gonna lay down and let us beat them. That's why the early goal was important. We came out really strong with a lot of energy and just kind of put with them right away. So I think they were kind of surprised by that. Took our goals well and just a great all around performance. Definitely gives us confidence. And now we want to go and win this next one against El Salvador."
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
- With Atlanta's Miles Robinson a healthy scratch, it was the USMNT's first competitive match without using a single MLS player since the league began in 1996.
- The USMNT's win makes it five in as many games vs. Grenada, which breaks a tie with Barbados for most games played with a 100% record.
- It was the fifth time the USMNT had scored seven in a game -- the most they have ever scored was eight (vs. Cayman Islands in 1993 and vs. Barbados in 2008).
Grenada: This was their only game of the international window and their Nations League group stage campaign is complete. They'll finish last behind El Salvador and the United States, and will next be in action for the Gold Cup qualifiers in July.
United States: Taking on El Salvador in Orlando on Monday to see who'll win Group A and book a spot in the Nations League semifinals in Las Vegas in June. Friday's win also secured the USMNT an automatic place for the Gold Cup.