AUSTIN, Texas — United States men’s national team manager Gregg Berhalter praised his side for sticking to its task, and delivering a late flurry of goals in a 3-0 win over 10-man Trinidad and Tobago in the first leg of the quarterfinals of the Concacaf Nations League.
The U.S. dominated possession, and were given a significant advantage in the 37th minute when T&T defender Noah Powder was ejected for a second yellow card after hauling down U.S. midfielder Weston McKennie.
But the Soca Warriors proved difficult to break down, and when a 64th-minute penalty was overturned by VAR, it didn’t seem to be the USMNT’s night. But substitute Ricardo Pepi put the U.S. in front in the 82nd minute, turning home Antonee Robinson‘s centering feed, and that opened the floodgates. Robinson added a second four minutes later when his long-range strike found the net, with the help of a deflection. Gio Reyna rounded out the scoring with a tally in the 89th minute. Now the U.S. will attempt to finish the job in Monday’s second leg in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.
“I think that the easy thing to do is credit Trinidad and say how much they fought and how they weren’t giving up, and how compact they were and I told the guys, ‘Listen, they played great. They really did, gave everything, but I think our guys matched that and then even exceeded it,” said Berhalter.
The U.S. manager added that his team. didn’t panic, and persevered in a bid to find a breakthrough.
“We didn’t lose structure. We didn’t lose determination to try to get the goals and then when we did, you see we kept going and were able to get three, which puts us in a very good position to advance,” he said. “We know we still have work to do. We know there’s 90 minutes left, we’re not done. But big credit to the guys.”
The match will still raise questions about the effectiveness of the U.S. attack, given how long it took to get the first goal of the match, as well as the fact that it had a man advantage for over 53 minutes.
“We lacked a little bit of precision and you see there was a lot of moves in the first half that were pretty good moves that just the final pass was missing or the first touch was missing,” he said.
Berhalter admitted that his side was “maybe a little bit too intricate, where you could have probably gotten the ball in the box a little bit more” instead of mixing things up and taking more shots from distance.
It helped that Pepi continues to deliver in a super-sub role. His goal was his seventh for the U.S. in 2023, and his fifth off the bench, the most ever for a USMNT player in a calendar year.
“All he does is when he gets the opportunity, takes advantage of it,” said Berhalter about Pepi. “And he’s in a great spot. If you think about his situation, his [club] team in the league is undefeated, doing well in the Champions League. Compared to last year, his team was relegated.
The year before he wasn’t playing at Augsburg. So he’s significantly increased his situation. He’s gotten much better for us. He’s established himself as a guy that’s hard to take out because he keeps performing and I think he’s in a great spot.”