Second-half sub Ricardo Pepi needed almost no time to make his presence felt, delivering the game-winning goal in the United States’ 1-0 victory over El Salvador on Monday in the CONCACAF Nations League.
The Netherlands-based striker, who scored twice in a starting role in the United States’ 7-1 thrashing of Grenada on Friday, came on in the 60th minute at Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Florida.
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He’d barely had a chance to touch the ball when Weston McKennie’s crisp through ball found him in the area and he shook off defender Roberto Dominguez and lofted a shot over Salvadoran keeper Mario Gonzalez in the 62nd minute.
Although the defending champions needed only a point against El Salvador to assure themselves of a place in the final four of the Nations League in June, Pepi said the win at home mattered.
“I think it was important for me personally and for the team,” said the 20-year-old, who missed out on a place in the US World Cup squad last year.
“It was a roller coaster,” he said. “Up and down, not making it to the World Cup and now back with the squad. Happy to be back.”
The first half saw the United States struggle to create openings against El Salvador’s suffocating defense.
El Salvador threatened less than two minutes into the game, with Jairo Henriquez’s shot from the edge of the box pushed wide by a diving Turner.
Gio Reyna, playing his first match before home fans since he was engulfed in World Cup controversy, had one of the best first half efforts for the United States with a long range shot that Gonzalez tipped wide with his fingertips.
The hosts opened the second half aggressively. Reyna hit the post in the 46th minute and seconds later Tim Ream went close with a volley.
Pepi had a chance to double the lead in the 79th minute when Taylor Booth found him on the left side of the area, but his shot skimmed wide of Gonzalez’s far post.
The match was the United States’ second competitive fixture under interim coach Anthony Hudson.
The United States are trying to retain the Nations League title they won in 2021 with final victory over Mexico — who have also secured their place in the final four by finishing top of Group A.