If it were up to the U.S. men’s national team, it likely wouldn’t be continuing its World Cup preparations against FIFA’s 170th-ranked side. But that’s the hand it was dealt as it began its Concacaf Nations League title defense on Friday at Austin FC’s Q2 Stadium. And it took full advantage of the opportunity.
The U.S. beat Grenada, 5–0, in its last match on American soil before the World Cup begins in November, with roster hopeful Jesús Ferreira scoring four of the five goals to put the Americans on course for three points. The top team in each of the four groups in Concacaf League A will reach the final four next year. It was that Nations League final four platform that helped serve as a springboard for this young U.S. group, with dramatic wins over Honduras and Mexico setting the foundation for the Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying success that would follow.
The U.S. entered on the heels of a win over Morocco and draw vs. Uruguay in a pair of friendlies against World Cup-bound teams, and after Friday’s rout of the Spice Boys and Tuesday night’s match in El Salvador, there will be just a pair of September friendlies in Europe against Asian competition standing between the U.S. and its World Cup group games.
In terms of the U.S.’s Nations League group, Grenada and El Salvador have already played each other twice, with El Salvador winning at home and the two sides drawing in St. George’s.
Gregg Berhalter opted for significant lineup rotation, which was to be expected for a third match in nine days and the dip in competition. Tyler Adams and Christian Pulisic were both omitted altogether in a coach’s decision, while reserve center back Erik Palmer-Brown was kept out with a hamstring injury.
The U.S. had the better of the ball in the opening minutes, which were played in nearly 100-degree temperatures, and the first half-chance came in the fourth minute. Paul Arriola was played down the right channel, and he crossed for Jordan Morris, whose jump wasn’t timed particularly well, and all he could do was flail at a header that wound up harmlessly in Grenada goalkeeper Jason Belfon’s arms.
The U.S. had another close call as the match entered the ninth minute, with Luca de la Torre acting as a one-man transition and carrying all the way into the Grenada box before a heavy touch opened the door for a tackle and clearance before he could make a decisive pass or shot.
Less then five minutes later, after a cross-field switch to left back Antonee Robinson, Arriola had a header cleared off the line. Robinson’s cross was directed to Ferreira, whose initial acrobatic chance looped into Arriola’s path, but the FC Dallas winger couldn’t convert.
Right back Reggie Cannon flubbed a 19th-minute opportunity after a spectacular defense-splitting ball from Kellyn Acosta. Cannon slipped before he could either shoot or square the ball for Arriola, allowing Grenada to temporarily clear. Arriola won back possession and crossed for Morris, but his attempt to back-heel a low chance into the far corner was easily saved.
The U.S. endured a scary moment as the match entered minute 24, as center back Aaron Long and Belfon collided following a free kick. Long spent a couple of minutes down being tended to by medics, who appeared to be checking his ribs, before he ultimately stayed in.
Another semi-close call for the U.S. happened in the 28th minute, with Robinson finding Ferreira just outside the Grenada box. The FC Dallas striker had his go from 20 yards, but he couldn’t get enough curl on his chance, and it stayed wide right of the far post. Ferreira got free in the box in the 33rd minute as well, but he could only direct his low shot right at Belfon.
Ferreira made good on his next chance, though. After a failed Grenada clearance, Arriola reclaimed possession, and his attempted cross was blocked right into Ferreira’s path. The forward finished with his left, low and inside the left post, to give the U.S. the breakthrough in the 43rd minute.
But the action stayed with Ferreira, who missed a clear-cut look at goal in the 48th minute. De la Torre crossed to him eight yards out for an open header, only for the forward to miss the target with his unmarked look.
Ferreira made up for it minutes later, though, as his FC Dallas teammate Arriola played a perfect through ball to him, and he finished comfortably for his second of the night to make it 2-0.
Ferreira completed his hat trick soon after. Off a designed corner kick, Acosta found Ferreira, who curled his finest finish of the night by Belfon to make it 3-0.
Ferreira made it 5-0 on the night with his fourth, this one coming in tap-in fashion. Brenden Aaronson came off the bench for de la Torre and immediately got involved, serving it up for Ferreira from close range.
In doing so, he became just the fifth player in U.S. men’s history to score four goals in a game, with the most recent instance being Landon Donovan in 2003. With all eyes on the U.S. striker competition, Ferreira at the very least gave Berhalter something to think about as he ponders his roster construction going forward.
source: Sports Illustrated