The U.S. men’s national team was ineffective in front of goal for the opening 60 minutes of Monday’s Concacaf Nations League showdown with El Salvador, but a key substitute off the bench would play the hero for the Americans.
Ricardo Pepi came off the bench and delivered the winning goal in a 1-0 triumph over Hugo Perez’s squad at Exploria Stadium. Monday’s victory guaranteed the Americans a spot into June’s CNL semifinal around and clinched top spot in Group D of League A.
The USMNT were put under early pressure from La Selecta in the opening minute as Jairo Hernandez’s shot deflected just wide of the right post.
Gio Reyna tested his luck from long-range in the 29th minute but Mario Gonzalez dove to his right to deny the Borussia Dortmund attacker. Reyna’s shot was the Americans first true offensive opportunity after being held in check for most of the first half.
Weston McKennie was left wide open at the back post in first-half stoppage time, but sent his free header wide of Gonzalez’s right post.
The USMNT came out with added pressure to start the second half as Reyna’s shot in the 47th minute hit the left post.
Ricardo Pepi came on in the 60th minute for Daryl Dike and needed only one minute to make an instant impact. Weston McKennie’s through ball pass allowed Pepi to get behind the El Salvador backline before the in-form forward chipped Gonzalez for a 1-0 lead.
It marked Pepi’s third goal in the March window for the USMNT.
The Americans tried to ice the victory but were unable to beat Gonzalez for a second time. Pepi and Brenden Aaronson both missed offensive chances before Gonzalez sprawled to repel Pepi’s close-range volley in the 85th minute.
Anthony Hudson’s squad would hang on to claim a second-consecutive victory in competitive action this year.
The USMNT will be back in action this April as it faces rivals Mexico in the Continental Classic in Glendale, Arizona.