10/8/21  USA wins 2-0, @ Pan Sun 6 pm, Spain vs France Sun 2:45 ESPN, HS Sectional Finals Sat

US Men vs Jamaica  @ Panama Sunday 6 pm Paramount +

The US moves to Top of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying Standings with 2-0 over Jamaica  

Wow – it might just be time to hop on the Pepi Train!  Ricardo Pepi at just 18 years old became the youngest US player to score in back to back qualifiers.  The two goals were classic #9 goals and Pepi is showing he might just be the answer for the US moving forward.  The other 18 year old who was magnificent was Yanus Musah – the Valencia winger starting at the #8 midfield slot and was downright fantastic as he started the attack on the first goal and he just continuously attacks the goal.  He does what a #8 is supposed to do – I would argue he might be better than McKinney who completely disappeared last night. Musah always goes forward and does a great job of transitioning the ball from offense to defense.  Really, really impressive.  Of course Aaronson and Tim Weah were both lightening fast on the right wing and were really dangerous.   Aaronson with an assist to Pepi and a couple of great shots.  Weah came on in the 2nd half and provided good service (that Zardes missed /Pepi would have bagged it) and he too had some great shots on goal.  MLS Goalkeeping standout Blake for Jamaica stood on his head or this would have been 4-0.  In the back Sergio Dest was a start on the right side – often the most dangerous and entertaining player on the ball and the centerback pairing of Robinson and Zimmermann was fine.  Of course GK Matt Turner made 2 saves in the first half – 1 of them world class to hold another clean sheet.  Again this game is not on regular TV because CBS Paramount Plus bought the rights to the CONCACAF World Cup and Nations Cup games. 


Looking ahead – Stefan/Robinson and a slightly injured McKinney will not travel to Panama but should be available in Columbus for Costa Rica.  I like the US in a close 2-1 win at Panama. I picked the 2-0 result vs Jamaica –we’ll see for Sunday night vs Panama.  I will be headed to Columbus for the US vs Costa Rica game Wednesday Oct 13th – let me know if you are going and we can hoopkup downtown before the game.  Also I am desperately looking for US vs Mexico Tickets in November – (willing to pay over cost for 1 or 2 or 4 tickets) please let me know if you have extras. 

USMNT roster for October World Cup qualifiers

GOALKEEPERS (3): Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Zack Steffen (Manchester City), Matt Turner (New England Revolution)

DEFENDERS (10): George Bello (Atlanta United),  Sergiño Dest (Barcelona), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Shaq Moore (Tenerife), Walker Zimmermann (Nashville), Chris Richards (Hoffenheim), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), DeAndre Yedlin (Galatasaray)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Kellyn Acosta (Colorado Rapids), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig), Gianluca Busio (Venezia), Luca de la Torre (Heracles), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Juventus), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders)

FORWARDS (6): Brenden Aaronson (Red Bull Salzburg), Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Matthew Hoppe (Mallorca), Ricardo Pepi (FC Dallas), Tim Weah (Lille), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)

Here’s the schedule (all times ET):

  • Thursday, Oct. 7 — vs. Jamaica 2-0
  • Sunday, Oct. 10 — at Panama (6 p.m., Paramount+, Universo)
  • Wednesday, Oct. 13 — vs. Costa Rica (7 p.m., ESPN2, UniMás, TUDN)  Columbus

Who Shane likes to start vs Panama



Musah or Roldan/Lletget


Bello/Mark McKenzie/Miles Robinson/Yedlin


WCQ Standings

United States4220+58
El Salvador4121-25
Costa Rica4031-13

High School Sectional Finals  

CARMEL GIRLS SECTIONAL at Murray Stadium  $6/session, 

Carmel 1, Guerin Catholic 0 — Lauren Bailey scored the game-winning goal early in the second half. Emily Roper recorded the assist.

Oct. 7

M3: North Central (Indianapolis) 3, Pike 0


M4: Zionsville vs. Westfield, 5:30 p.m.

M5: Carmel vs. North Central, 7:30 p.m.


Championship: M4 vs. M5, 7 p.m.

Westfield Boys SECTIONAL $6/session, 

Oct. 6

Zionsville 3, North Central 0

Oct. 7

M4: Carmel 3, Pike 1 — Resumed from Wednesday night.


Championship: Zionsville vs. Carmel, 2 p.m.

GUERIN Boys SECTIONAL $6/session, 

Oct. 6

Brebeuf Jesuit 6, Lebanon 0

Oct. 7

Guerin Catholic 2, Cardinal Ritter 1


Championship: Brebeuf vs. Guerin Catholic, 2 p.m.

Noblesville Boys SECTIONAL

Oct. 6

Fishers 2, Muncie Central 0

Noblesville 5, Pendleton Heights 0


Championship: #1 Fishers vs. #2 Noblesville, 6 p.m.


PARAMOUNT PLUS Live TV, Soccer & Originals
  • Starting price: $4.99/mo.
  • Features US Men’s National Team, CONCACAF WORLD CUP Qualifying, Champions League, Serie A, Europa League Free Trial



2:45 pm  ESPN+           Androra vs England

2:45 pm ESPN +           Switzerland vs Northern Ireland 

2:45 pm ESPN+            Poland vs San Marino

6 pm Univision             NYRB vs Inter Miami

9 pm ESPN+                  Seattle vs Vancouver


9 am ESPNU                 UEFA Nations League 3rd place

2:45 pm ESPN              UEFA Nations League FINALS

3 pm ESPN+                  Minn vs Colorado

5 pm ESPN+                  Birmingham vs Indy 11

5 pm FUBO                   Colombia vs Brazil

5pm Paramount+         USA Pregame Show

6 pm Paramount+        USA @ Panama

7 pm Univision, P+      Mexico vs Honduras

7:30 pm fubo               Argentina vs Uruguay

MON 10/12    WCQ 

2:45 pm  ESPN2           Slovenia vs Russia  

TUES 10/13    WCQ 

2 pm EPSN2                 Denmark vs Austria

3 pm ESPN+                  England vs Hungary

5 pm FUBO                   Colombia vs Brazil

Weds 10/14    WCQ 

7 pm ESPN2                  USA vs Costa Rica

7 pm Univision, P+      Canada vs Panama

10 pm CBS SN              El Salvador (Eric Zavaleta) vs Mexico


Ricardo Pepi’s goals lift U.S. over Jamaica in World Cup qualifying match

U.S. striker Pepi makes case with stellar showing against Jamaica

Panama, USMNT will forever remember Oct. 10, 2017, but for very different reasons
USMNT vs Jamaica: 3 things we learned in World Cup qualifying

Analysis: Pepi & Aaronson lead the U.S. past Jamaica 2-0 in Austin

The Ricardo Pepi Hype Train Chugs Right Along SI Brian Straus

Pepi Does it Again for US
Pepi decision proving big for U.S. as goal scoring star

TakeAways from US vs Panama & W2W4 vs Panama  Matt Doyle MLS.com  


Three Takeaways from the USMNT’s Pepi-inspired win over Jamaica 


Three Takeaways from Canada’s impressive draw with Mexico at the Azteca



Ferran Torres, Spain end Italy’s record streak, reach Nations League Final

Mbappe has ‘winner’s mentality’, says France captain Lloris

Spain end Italy’s record unbeaten run to reach Nations League final

How 17-year-old Gavi became Spain’s present and future


England to have female ref in charge for first time in World Cup qualifier

Werner under pressure to maintain goal-scoring run for Germany


NWSL teams pause games: “this is not business as usual”

Morgan, ex-NWSL players call for better policies, more transparency from league

Courage owner apologizes for ‘failure’ with former coach Paul Riley after allegations

Carli Lloyd thanks Philadelphia soccer fans for giving her a NWSL homecoming game she’ll never forget

 UEFA Women’s Champions League: Macario scores for Lyon; Heath falls with Arsenal

Indy 11

Indy 11 play at Birmingham Legion FC @ 5 pm on ESPN+ before returning home to face Louisville City FC next sat on My TV 23.





Columbus Defeats Cruz Azul 2-0 to Win Campeones Cup

MLS: 2022 All-Star Game headed to Minnesota

USWNT vs Korea in KC 10/21 and St. Paul 10/26
Tickets are still available for the USWNT’s last two home matches of 2021 – and the Legendary Carli Lloyd’s last two matches in U.S. jersey: October 21 in Mercy Park in Kansas City and October 26 in St. Paul’s Allianz Field. Games

The US #9 Ricardo Pepi Hype Train Chugs Right Along

Success at a high level is coming fast for the 18-year-old U.S. men’s national team striker, whose contributions in World Cup qualifying have proven invaluable.



AUSTIN, Texas — The fans were showering him with love—full cups were literally flying—and so Ricardo Pepi took the opportunity to return it. The ball having bounced safely inside the left post, the 18-year-old striker jogged toward Q2 Stadium’s southwest corner and kissed the U.S. Soccer crest on his jersey.This relationship is in that early, delirious phase where everything seems perfect. But no matter how long it lasts, its impact is already significant. Pepi is the fresh face of this young U.S. men’s national team’s World Cup qualifying resurgence. After tallying a goal and two assists in his debut last month in Honduras, the FC Dallas star and El Paso native helped lift the Americans to first place in the Concacaf Octagonal with both goals in Thursday’s 2-0 defeat of Jamaica.The notable stats and facts are starting to pile up. Pepi has three goals in two senior U.S. starts. On Thursday, he become the second-youngest American man to score multiple goals in a match (Christian Pulisic has the record) and the youngest to find the net in back-to-back World Cup qualifiers. He’s now alone in first place atop the Octagonal leader board despite appearing in only two of the four games. The much-discussed Pepi hype train only recently departed, but it’s already reached dizzying speed. https://252a7e5c0ff64ebbf87f553cb552aea0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html The U.S. struggled to find its attacking rhythm in its first two qualifiers. Since halftime of the Honduras game, however, the Americans (2-0-2) have been almost unstoppable. Pepi isn’t doing it alone, of course. But the scoreboard acknowledges only the finish, and U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter has been searching for a player who boasts the requisite technical ability, as well as a knack for nailing the runs and timing that complement the buildup fashioned by his attacking midfielders and wingers. Pepi’s ability to mesh with his teammates and bring Berhalter’s vision to life seems almost intuitive.“We’re all excited. For us, we’re just sitting there and we’re on the train,” Berhalter said Thursday night. “We’re just observing everything that’s happening. It’s amazing. I mean, an 18-year-old gets an opportunity and takes advantage of it. What you see, and what I really like, is that he has this instinct and it’s really hard to teach that to players. He has an instinct to score.”

Pepi really does make it look easy. Following a fallow first half against Jamaica, the quick and proactive U.S. started finding the precision it was missing on its crosses. In the 49th minute, he held up his run as Yunus Musah carried the ball through midfield, then subtly backed off a Jamaican defender to create the needed space to head home Sergiño Dest’s cross. In the 62nd minute, Pepi raced into the penalty area to meet Brenden Aaronson’s cross. Two touches, two goals, three points—it was a striker’s clinic. The Americans don’t need someone in that role who can create off the dribble or bomb away from distance. They’re looking for their Lewandowski—someone who can find the right run in a split second and then find the composure to finish off the play.“It’s about being patient,” Pepi said of his wait to make his mark against Jamaica. “I feel like if you ask any striker, whenever you don’t touch the ball or whenever you don’t get a lot of opportunities, you just have to stay ready for it when you do get a chance.”The sample size isn’t extensive. It’s been two games. But it’s hard to be more effective in so short a time, and the world is taking notice. Pepi has been a regular at FCD for only a season and a half, but it’s hard not to imagine him departing for Europe over the winter. Big clubs are circling. Ajax, Bayern Munich, Wolfsburg and Genoa are among the clubs that have been mentioned in recent reports.He has a big choice to make. But it won’t be his first. This summer, he made a career-defining decision by deciding to commit his international future to the U.S. The son of Mexican parents who was born and raised straddling both countries and cultures, Pepi almost certainly would’ve felt at home wearing either nation’s colors. But after spending time with the U.S. U-17s, he made his decision in August. In addition to playing for his native land, he was joining a team searching for what he offers. Berhalter has several strikers to choose from, but none had seized the starting role.“I am very proud to be Mexcian-American,” Pepi wrote in August. “At the same time, I was born and raised in the USA. This country has given me and my family a home, and endless possibilities to achieve my dreams. It has supported me, it has lifted me up, and it has shown me when you work hard you will be rewarded.”Pepi is already returning the favor. Berhalter expressed some concern following Thursday’s game about the minutes and miles that are already in his striker’s legs this season, but followed that with admiration for Pepi’s ability to power through. This month’s World Cup qualifying window will continue with Sunday’s game at Panama (1-1-2) and then conclude with a visit by Costa Rica (0-1-3) to Columbus, Ohio.”We knew that it was going to take a lot of mental courage for him to step up and really play with that relentless that we need, and he did it. So really proud of him,” Berhalter said.Aaronson, who’s just 20, said he was “really proud” of Pepi too. Aaronson, who’s already got 11 caps and a move to Red Bull Salzburg under his belt, is practically a veteran compared to Pepi. And he’s as thrilled as his manager and those beer-throwing U..S. fans about his young teammate’s start.

“He’s really grown into this striker that is just so deadly in the box. He’s someone that’s always around. I mean, for a midfielder-slash-winger, what I am, it’s a dream to play with a striker like him because you know he’s going to be in these spots,” Aaronson said after Thursday’s win. “His hold-up play is good. He plays simple. He doesn’t try to do too much and when he gets in the box he scores. I’m really proud of him. He’s an 18-year-old kid and it’s unbelievable what he’s doing, and the sky’s the limit for him.”Pepi doesn’t seem fazed by any of it yet. He’s succinct and soft spoken, and there seems to be no doubt about what he’s after. There’s been no distraction so far. He has scored 13 goals in MLS play for FC Dallas this season and he hit the clinching penalty kick in August’s All-Star win over a Liga MX select team. He’s now clearly the top striker on Berhalter’s depth chart. There are four more World Cup qualifiers this year, including the November showdown with Mexico in Cincinnati, and then a potential move abroad over the winter. The spotlight is going to brighten considerably. It could all be dizzying and daunting for this quiet kid from El Paso. But trains are built to stay on track.Pepi’s family was in the Q2 Stadium crowd on Thursday. They moved with him to Dallas, and they’re going to help keep him grounded as his profile soars.“Just being able to say calm, being able to just stay humble. I always talk to my family about a lot of things going on and they always tell me I’ve got to stay humble and I’ve got to keep working,” Pepi said Thursday.“I feel like it’s coming. I don’t know if it’s too fast or if it’s too slow. I feel like it’s coming. Whatever is going to come is going to come, and I feel like I have to be ready for it and be prepared.”

The unstoppable dreams of USMNT prodigy Ricardo Pepi

Oct 6, 2021Roberto José Andrade Franco ESPN 

IN THE TUNNEL of Toyota Stadium, Ricardo Pepi poses during a photo shoot. The late morning feels perfect. The sun casts a shadow over a good part of the grass, which looks as green as anything that’s ever been. The cool breeze rippling through the flags of Texas, the United States and FC Dallas makes it feel like the season is finally changing after another hot summer.

“Do something with your hands,” the photographer tells Ricardo. His voice echoes through the tunnel, as does the sound of the camera. Ricardo spreads his long arms to his side. His palms, near his waist, face out with fingers almost extended. His chin high, he looks straight into the lens.”The Zen pose,” is what the phoographer calls whatever Ricardo’s doing.”You’re a natural,” the photographer says.Ricardo smiles the grin of the rare teenager full of confidence.”I try to be,” says the 18-year-old.His voice lacks any hint of hesitation, as if he understands something no one else knows. Just weeks ago, Pepi made the momentous choice between two countries and joined the USMNT, a team trying to shake off its failure to qualify for the last World Cup. He has proved to be a revelation, scoring a crucial goal in the USA’s win over Honduras on Sept. 8, fulfilling the promise he makes to his family before each game: “I’m gonna score. I’m gonna score. I’m gonna score.”changing, even as he prepares for another round of games this week that will hopefully take him and his teammates to Qatar 2022, he seems so calm, peaceful. It’s like he’s always known it was just a matter of time and hard work before the attention would come. That his and his family’s sacrifices would eventually lead them out of El Paso to here. And that from here, he, and maybe they too, will go somewhere else.Somewhere farther than the 10-hour drive between this place and home.

EL PASO IS about 83% Latino, most of that of Mexican descent. But decades ago, the city was a lot whiter. And back in those days, Alameda Avenue was a sort of dividing line. If you were white, you likely lived north of that street. If Mexican, you stayed south. Between that avenue and the Rio Grande, on the eastern part of El Paso County where land is cheaper and it becomes clear that this is life deep in the Chihuahuan Desert, is San Elizario.San Eli is what everyone here calls it. That’s where Ricardo’s childhood home stands about a mile south of Alameda Avenue and double that distance north of the Rio Grande and the rust-colored border wall that scars the soul of this place. The overgrown weeds, the still-hanging Christmas lights, the empty rooms and the white car with deflating tires parked in the back, make it feel like the home was hastily abandoned. As if an opportunity came up that couldn’t be passed.Like many houses in this neighborhood, the Pepis’ former home looks like it’s still in the process of being constructed. Good enough to live in — the doors and windows lock, the water and electricity work, the roof doesn’t leak — but still unfinished.”I built it,” Daniel, Ricardo’s father, says in Spanish. Whenever extra money came in, it went to the house. Little by little, working on the weekends and after long weekdays doing construction, Daniel built this with his hands.”When Ricardo was growing up, the conditions weren’t the best for us,” Daniel says. “That was part of the reason we lived in San Eli. It wasn’t because we wanted to. I didn’t grow up in a rural area where the roosters wake you up, where the neighbors have cows.”From this house, Daniel and his wife, Annette, raised their young family. It was a life common to many El Pasoans. Monday through Friday, while working or at school, they stayed on the north side of the Rio Grande. On weekends and the random weeknight, the Pepis returned to the south side of the river to spend time with family still living in Juárez, Mexico.”We consider it one city, one community,” Daniel says of El Paso and Juárez. “It doesn’t really matter if you live in El Paso or live in Juárez, you cross that bridge as much as you can.”From this house, Ricardo — the oldest of the three Pepi children — started playing soccer at 4 years old. He’d grown up watching his father play, and Daniel coached him for a few years. Apart from practice, they’d sometimes do drills on a field in the shadow of a church that traces its roots as far back as the U.S. Constitution.Daniel put his son in leagues a year or two above Ricardo’s age. Yes, he did it to push him. To challenge him. But he also did it because Ricardo was always bigger than his peers. His family nickname had once been Gordo. Outside of El Paso, Daniel had to carry his son’s birth certificate to show that he wasn’t older than the competition, he was actually younger.

Ricardo had, what Daniel says in Spanish, “el olfato de gol.” Some words or phrases lose their beauty in translation. This is an example. But the idea is that even at a young age, Ricardo had a nose for goal. Like he could smell it. Like he could feel it. Like he could seemingly score at will — which he often did — even when his father had him playing defense. And as he did that, the opponent’s parents doubted Ricardo’s age again.”QUINCEAÑERO!” those parents screamed, implying the young boy was 15.”¿CUÁNDO ES LA BODA?” they yelled, sarcastically asking when he was getting married.Daniel laughs when he remembers those days. But he turns serious when asked if he feels like he pushed his son too hard. Like during those games when Ricardo didn’t feel like running because sometimes that’s the last thing 7-year-olds want to do. When that happened Daniel would take Ricardo out the game, then drive him home. It’s a long, lonely drive out to San Eli. It’s a perfect stretch of road for a proud man to brood in silence.”Yes, I was hard on him,” Daniel admits.”I’d make him take his uniform and cleats off and put them in the trash. I’d tell him, ‘Look, if you don’t want to play, that’s fine. Don’t play. But you’re not going to be wasting my time and much less, my money.'”WHEN YOU’RE THE child of immigrant parents, you often feel as if you’ve got to make their struggles and sacrifices count for something. Calling it a burden is too much. Call it that feeling you get when you look at your father or mother and wonder what dreams they had before life shook them awake.Because sometimes your mother is 16 years old when she had you. And sometimes your father pawns the family car and borrows money because those can become tomorrow’s problems if it means everyone’s eating today. And sometimes, you live in a place like El Paso and Juárez that are often neglected by their governments, and it feels like you must escape.Like the rest of the communities, largely of Mexican descent, along the north side of the Texas-Mexico border, El Paso County has a substantially higher poverty rate than the rest of the country. Its per capita income is over $12,400 lower than the national average. It has lower levels of educational attainment. It has more than twice the national percentage rate of uninsured residents under 65.It’s why when you come from the El Paso-Juárez borderland — as I do — it’s easy to feel an urgency. It’s disquieting to notice how few things grow here. The barren surroundings don’t help. Out in the wide-open spaces of West Texas and Northern Mexico, it’s easy to get lost.To live here is to feel the questions that are as omnipresent as the mountains surrounding the region and as persistent as the winds racing down from them. On the worst of days that wind howls. It makes the desert floor dance until the sand blocks the sun and turns the sky from a hue of blue to a reddish-brown.That wind can rip the roof off buildings and tear doors from hinges. It can choke and blind you, sometimes worse. It’s on those days when it feels like we should all run away from this desert. Run away from this separate world between two countries. On those days when it sounds like some invisible hand is continually throwing dirt against locked doors and windows, it’s like the wind carries the existential questions that most here wrestle with.If I stay, will being around family and all that I know be enough to make me content?

If I leave, will the things I hope to gain be worth the hurt of missing what I’m about to lose?“IT WAS LIKE they took a piece of my heart,” Annette says, in Spanish, of Ricardo moving to Dallas. It was 2016. Ricardo was 13 years old. FC Dallas offered him a place in their academy. Ricardo said yes. And he left.”The only thing I could do was support my son,” Annette remembers. “It was very difficult. Very difficult.”Those first few weeks when her baby was away from home, Annette cried herself to sleep. In the mornings in between phone calls to her son, asking how his host family was treating him and if he’d already eaten, she’d cry some more.”I can’t be without him,” she’d tell Daniel. “I can’t.”Daniel would try to comfort her, telling her it was what Ricardo wanted. That the only thing they could do is support him. But even for Daniel, that distance became too much.About a year after Ricardo left, his family drove to Dallas for a tournament. Twice a month they’d make that 10-hour, 635-mile drive. Coaches told Daniel that Ricardo was doing very well, and he had a bright future. During the visit, Ricardo told his father he wanted them all to move to Dallas so they could be together again.”Son,” Daniel told Ricardo. “I’m not moving here. We’re not coming.”If that wasn’t deflating enough, Daniel turned the question on Ricardo.”I want to know if you’re ready to come back?”As soon as Daniel asked the question, Ricardo started to cry. Whatever dreams he imagined himself pursuing were suddenly in doubt. To be 13 years old and to say no to the person who’s given you so much feels like the most difficult answer you’ll ever give.In between tears, Ricardo said he understood how hard the distance between them had been, because he felt it too. He missed his family the most, but he also missed El Paso and Juárez. He missed the friends and family on both sides of that river that separates everyone there.”I love you all,” Ricardo told his father. “But this is my dream and I’m going to stay. I’ll miss all of you.”As soon as he heard that, Daniel felt chills. He began to cry. If you’ve seen the tears of a stoic Mexican man hardened by life, it stays with you. They hugged and kissed. Daniel told Annette what was happening, and she told him she was ready to move. “I don’t want to be without him,” she said.Four years ago, the entire Pepi family — father, mother, brother and sister — moved to a suburb north of Dallas. Ricardo left his host family and moved in too. And just like it had in their old house in San Eli, their life revolved around soccer. When they weren’t at games, or at school, or Daniel at some construction site, or Annette cleaning another office, they’d watch Liga MX. And, as always, because the Pepis are “Américanistas de corazón,” they’d cheer for Club América, just like they’d always done.”I was raised watching Mexican soccer,” Daniel says. “And that’s how I raised my children.”So much Mexican soccer — the league, yes, but also El Tri — that as a young boy, Ricardo said something his father still remembers.”Hey dad,” Ricardo told Daniel while watching El Tri play.Maybe they were playing at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Or maybe the Mexican national team was playing in the United States, where they’re this country’s most popular team. Who knows?”Imagine when I’m playing there,” Ricardo said. “I WAS 99 percent sure he was going to pick Mexico,” Manny Ruiz says.Ruiz, an FC Dallas season-ticket owner, is also a member of El Matador. They’re a bilingual group of FC Dallas supporters who during tailgates, play salsa and rap, and talk to each other in some combination of English and Spanish. Ruiz first watched Ricardo play in 2019, back when the precocious teen was a member of North Texas SC and scored a hat trick in his first professional game. Born and raised in Dallas, Ruiz is also a fan of El Tri.And so, after a summer of watching Ricardo score at an increasing pace with FC Dallas — including becoming the youngest player in MLS history to notch a hat trick — Ruiz figured the dual national kid from El Paso would choose Mexico. Yes, Ricardo had attended international youth camps with both countries and was a member of the United States’ 2019 U-17 World Cup squad. Still, there has long been a perception that players coming from the U.S.’s Latino communities, playing in city leagues and not expensive suburban academies, get taken for granted, at best. At worst, the system ignores them. About two weeks before Ricardo decided, Mexican American player David Ochoa said he was playing for Mexico.


Then in late August, a day after Ricardo scored the game-winning penalty for the MLS All-Stars to beat the Liga MX All Stars, the USMNT announced its roster for World Cup qualifying. They’d called up Ricardo and he said yes. When he announced his decision, Ricardo said that even though he’d chosen the United States, he was proud of being a Mexican American and that “will never be taken away from me, no matter what national team I play for.””I was pretty devastated,” Ruiz says of Ricardo’s decision. As soon as it became public, the USMNT fans within El Matador called Ruiz to taunt him. It hardly mattered that they too were surprised.”I was in shock,” Miguel Villalpando says. Villalpando, born and raised in Oak Cliff — a predominantly Latino neighborhood in Dallas — first heard about Ricardo when he played in the FC Dallas Academy. Villalpando says he immediately started paying attention to him because of their similarities. “He’s pretty much a Chicano,” he says, a term that describes someone of Mexican heritage born in the United States.”He’s from here and his parents are from Mexico. You have to take pride in that, especially him being with FC Dallas along with me being a U.S. fan.”To hear Villalpando tell how he, of Mexican descent, became a fan of the USMNT, it almost sounds like the origin story of a comic book villain. He was about 11, and the United States was about to play Mexico. “My dad was like, ‘a quién le vas? A Estados Unidos o México?‘” Which team did he want to win: United States or Mexico?But before he could say anything, his father — from Irapuato, Guanajuato — answered for him. “Ah, tú eres Chicanito, you have to go for the USA.”Villalpando, who laughs while telling the story and sprinkles Spanish words in every few sentences of conversation, admits it was his father’s way of being playful. But still, not every game is fun.”He was trying to insult me,” Villalpando says. “But I took it as I’m going to embrace this. Ever since that, I’ve always been a U.S. fan because my dad did that to me.”Friends and family — often playfully — call him a traitor. They tell him he should remember where he and his parents came from. And before each United States versus Mexico game, they tell him to get ready to lose. “I’m used to that,” Villalpando says, “it’s happened ever since I was a little kid. To me, it’s nothing.”During this long, scorching summer, the United States beat Mexico twice in the final of two different tournaments.Ruiz says that hurt. He says if Ricardo ever scores against Mexico, that’ll hurt too.Villalpando says that felt great. He says he’ll soon buy Ricardo’s USMNT jersey.BETWEEN PHOTOSHOOT LOCATIONS, Ricardo says choosing to play for the United States was one of the toughest decisions of his life. “I talked to my parents about it,” he says, standing a few feet from the pitch so unlike the ones he grew up playing on in El Paso. Those were full of rocks and weeds with thorns that’d get stuck to his shoes, laces and socks.”I got the call-up from the national team,” Ricardo says. “I asked my dad for his opinion, and he didn’t really say much. He said wherever I wanted to play, he would support me.”Like Daniel, the rest of the Pepi family, immediate and extended, have supported Ricardo’s decision, even if some still ask about it. Ricardo’s friends back in El Paso have been supportive too. They’ve even bought their USMNT jerseys with “Pepi” on the back.Still, Ricardo says he knows there are a lot of people and even media who think he should have chosen Mexico. Explaining only that it was a better opportunity, he says he made the right choice.Whenever he talks of that decision — he’s asked the same question in each of his increasing number of interviews — there’s zero doubt in his voice. He’s calm and at peace just like he is before every game, when he sits in silence and meditates. “This all has a lot to do with the mind,” he says. “If you’re prepared for it, if you expect it, then it’s going to come.”But just because he’s at peace with the decision doesn’t mean he can ignore what’s about to come. On Nov. 12, the United States plays Mexico and there isn’t a Zen with an energy strong enough for Ricardo to pretend it’ll be just another game. To not feel any type of emotion when he hears the Mexican national anthem play, and he’s not singing along. Maybe even cry, since members of El Tri and their fans have been known to do just that.Ricardo says that game will be different. He knows two countries will be watching and the line between who cheers for whom isn’t always clear. He knows he could become the first Mexican American superstar on the USMNT, and that there will always be those who think he made the wrong choice.He knows his father’s dream was once to have a son play for El Tri. But now, Ricardo knows he has his father’s full support.”With all due respect,” Daniel says, “I’m still Mexican, and continue to love my country, but right now, my jersey is that of the United States.” I DON’T QUITE remember when I figured out that even if I wasn’t physically there, I could never escape living in a borderland. That away from this place between the United States and Mexico, I’d always feel a barrier between me and whatever place I lived. That while here, I’d feel the closest sense to belonging in the middle of the river that both divides and unites El Paso and Juárez. That’s the thing about this place. It’s a lot of things and some of them are contradictory.It sometimes feels like the most beautiful place in the world. Other times, it feels like living in the middle of the desert was always going to end with an escape. That same rugged beauty can inspire the wildest of dreams: a young boy playing soccer in Europe’s biggest leagues, a former construction worker writing this. But it’s also the type of place that can suffocate you.

So, you leave because there’s no other choice. But sometimes running away creates a sense of guilt.Leaving can cause irreparable damages to bonds once so strong you would have bet they could withstand any distance. Leaving makes you understand that the farther away you are, the less likely you’ll ever feel at home.”Whenever I get a chance, I try to make it over there,” Ricardo says of the borderland. He misses the culture, how everyone’s friendly and humble and how Spanish is what you most often hear on both sides of the Rio Grande. He misses his family. The season is long, so it’s harder to return. But, he says, when he’s back, on Saturday mornings he likes to eat barbacoa in Juárez at a place called El Chivo Brincon.

“You ever eat there?” Ricardo asks me.When I tell him I’ve never been, he responds with an incredulous “nooooo” that goes on for at least two seconds. I tell him the place we used to eat was a simple cart next to a gas station that, if it had a name, was ignored.”Everyone called it ‘el güey de la gasolinera,'” I tell him. The f—ing guy at the gas station.We laugh and the people around us don’t even know why.Unless you’re from here, you’ll never know how comforting it feels to meet an El Pasoan or a Juárense away from this place. It’s difficult to describe but it’s in the way they talk, especially when the conversation turns to Spanish. It’s in the music they listen to and the food that they eat. It’s in the shared memories of this place.It’s in the interaction. Because, if nothing else, for once, you don’t have to explain where you come from. No need to explain how much you miss i. Or the struggle to stay or leave.No need to explain how the border wall never looks as jarring as it does when you leave and go back.Or that, because it feels like it has always been there, sometimes that goddamned wall becomes just another part of the desert.

“IT’S IMPOSSIBLE,” DANIEL says when asked to describe his emotions when he heard Ricardo was starting the World Cup qualifier against Honduras.The game before, against Canada, the Pepi family traveled to Nashville. Since the USMNT played a scoreless tie in El Salvador, a game in which Ricardo didn’t get any playing time, Daniel figured his son would get 10 or 15 minutes in Tennessee.”We traveled there with that hope,” Daniel says. “Unfortunately, he didn’t play. And to be honest, the U.S. only got two points in two games, I figured he wasn’t going to play much, if at all, against Honduras.”Two games into qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, and the USMNT looked lost. The team had been expected to win both games and managed only draws. For fans, those results awoke dark memories of the team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.That’s why the game against Honduras mattered. And why Daniel figured Ricardo wouldn’t play, since he was unproven. Of course, look at it from the opposite angle and it becomes clear that whatever USMNT had done wasn’t working. And so, on the plane to Honduras, Gregg Berhalter — maybe coaching for his job — told Ricardo he was starting.Daniel was driving around Waco, Texas, where he works Monday through Friday, when he heard the news.”Are you playing with me?” he asked Ricardo, the surprise so great that Daniel had pulled off the road.”No,” Ricardo answered.At halftime, losing 1-0, and again, thoughts that everything might be coming apart for the USMNT — maybe even thoughts that they’d chosen the wrong country — Daniel worried Ricardo would get replaced. Not because he was playing badly, but because it was his first start.”I see him starting the second half,” Daniel says, “and how he’s playing. I tell my wife, ‘A goal’s coming, a goal’s coming, a goal’s coming.’ And then it comes.”In the 75th minute, Ricardo’s header broke the tie, 2-1. And as he — the second youngest player to play for the United States in a World Cup qualifier, after teammate Christian Pulisic — ran and screamed and jumped in celebration with his teammates, his family did the same at home. All celebrating the euphoria of what Ricardo calls “a goal that changed the game completely.” A goal that, at least for one game, broke the USMNT free from the panic and doubt and insecurity that had surrounded them.”There wasn’t enough room in our hearts to fit such emotion,” Daniel says. Sitting beside him, Annette also jumped and screamed. She cried. Because that’s what she always does when Ricardo scores.”My son has always said that he was going to be a professional. That he was going to play on a European club. And always, always, always, when he scores, I get tears of happiness and joy,” Annette says. As she talks, her voice begins to crack.”I know this is his dream,” she says of her son, who finished his USMNT debut with a goal and two assists to beat Honduras 4-1.”That game was special,” says the teenager from the edge of two countries.RICARDO STANDS BY his Camaro. It’s the last photoshoot location of the day.His car, a symbol of American muscle, looks as red and shiny as a candy apple. He got it about a month ago. It’s the first car he has ever bought for himself. And when he parks it, he’s careful not to touch the windows when closing the door. He doesn’t want his fingertips staining the tinted glass.”It’s been crazy,” Ricardo says about the past few months. He says he gets recognized lots more. Fans approach him and ask him for an autograph, and some — more than before — tell him they’re from El Paso too.Watching him play against men, it’s easy to forget how young Ricardo is. That, somewhere in the middle of his life-changing season, he graduated from high school. That he still lives at home with his parents. That when he’s not scoring goals, he takes out the trash, walks the dog and occasionally washes dishes.Ricardo misses home. But he has no second thoughts about the choices he has made. He says he understands how much his family has risked. They left the comfort and familiarity of El Paso and Juárez for Dallas, a giant of a city. Four years of living there, and they still use GPS to get around.This place is where they live now. For how much longer? No one knows. Soccer rumors mention Ricardo’s name along with some of the world’s biggest clubs in Germany, Italy, England and the Netherlands. Daniel says the family thinks about that every day.”But we don’t think of it as wondering what comes next,” Daniel says. “We know what comes next. He’s long visualized his path. He knows where he wants to go, and the path to get there.”But no matter where he, or they, as a family, live, they speak as if they too know you can’t escape the El Paso-Juárez borderland. They still own that unfinished house in San Eli. They talk about visiting as much as they can, crossing that bridge that divides and connects home. They say it never feels like enough. Because even if Ricardo chooses to play for the United States instead of Mexico, they all seem more comfortable in that place between those two countries.It’s like the last thing they want to do is forget where they come from. It’s why even if Ricardo and his magical right foot play for the United States, they only speak Spanish at home.Roberto José Andrade Franco is a fronterizo from the El Paso-Juárez borderland. Follow him @R_AndradeFranco to read more of his work.

Pepi decision proving big for U.S. as goal scoring star

JIM VERTUNO   Thu, October 7, 2021, 11:05 PM EDT·3 min read

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Just two months ago, Ricardo Pepi didn’t know which national team he wanted to play for.He ultimately picked the United States over Mexico, a choice that is paying off in a big way for the Americans.It likely will pay big for him personally as well, as every goal he scores will be driving up the price as clubs in Europe’s top leagues are reportedly interested in signing the 18-year-old marksman.Pepi scored both second-half goals for the U.S. in a 2-0 victory over Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier Thursday night. That gives him three goals in two qualifying matches — both key victories for the Americans in their quest to return to the World Cup next year — after deciding to play for the U.S., where he was born, instead of Mexico, where his parents are from.Pepi’s bouncing header early in the second half broke the deadlock and his one-touch shot past the Jamaican goalkeeper on a break sealed the victory. The goals made him youngest American ever to score in consecutive World Cup qualifiers and established him as the team’s offensive engine.“We’re all excited. We’re sitting here and we’re on the (Pepi) train,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “What you see and what I really like, he has this instinct (to score). It’s really hard to teach that to players.”Major League Soccer already knows how lightning can strike off his feet or head. He has 13 goals for FC Dallas this season and scored twice in a 5-3 win in Austin in the same stadium as Thursday night’s match.Born in El Paso to parents who hail from just across the Rio Grande in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, Pepi grew up in a home with strong cultural influences from both countries. That included watching the Mexican national team and Liga MX, the Mexican domestic league.

He had played or trained with both U.S. and Mexican youth teams, and scored three goals for the U.S. in qualifying for the 2019 Under-17 World Cup.Still, it was just in August when Pepi described his pending decision between the U.S. and Mexican national teams as “very hard” and one that could go “either way.” He had been in talks with representatives from both national teams during the Gold Cup tournament last summer.Mexico will rue its loss.“I feel like I worked just to be able to be on the squad, be able to represent my country. I feel like a made a big decision and like I said when I made my decision, I was going to give my all to the team and that’s what I’m doing,” Pepi said Thursday night.Pepe was called up to U.S. national team shortly after making his decision. He sat out a 0-0 draw at El Salvador and a 1-1 result against Canada. He then becoming the second-youngest player to ever start for the U.S. in a World Cup qualifier in a Sept. 8 match at Honduras.He made the most of his debut. The Americans trailed at halftime before storming back with four goals. Pepi assisted on one goal, then headed in another in the comeback.“An 18-year-old gets an opportunity and takes advantage of it,” Berhalter said.

The USMNT’s Next Big Thing secures another World Cup qualifying win

Henry Bushnell

Thu, October 7, 2021, 9:36 PM EDT

Ricardo Pepi is 18 years old and has tugged on a U.S. national team jersey just twice. He is also, as of Thursday night, the biggest reason the United States will likely qualify for the 2022 World Cup.Two months ago, he was a promising teen undecided on his international soccer future.

Now, he’s a burgeoning USMNT hero.

On Thursday at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas, Pepi scored his second consecutive winner in just his second U.S. game. His 49th-minute header beat Jamaica, and sent the U.S. to the top of North and Central America’s World Cup qualifying table.His second goal of the night, 13 minutes later, punctuated a 2-0 U.S. win. The Americans will head to Panama this weekend with eight points from four games, with growing confidence, and with a striker who could inspire more of it for years to come.”Pepi! Pepi!” the fans in his home state chanted. “Pepi! Pepi!”Pepi was born in El Paso, Texas, to Mexican-American parents, and could have represented either the country of his birth or that of his family’s heritage. He grew up “immersed” in that heritage, in Mexican culture, regularly crossing the border to Ciudad Juarez to visit relatives and friends.But for soccer, he moved to the Dallas suburbs. In late August, he chose the USMNT. In September, head coach Gregg Berhalter chose Pepi for the first time, and that decision changed the arc of the Americans’ World Cup qualifying journey.At halftime in Honduras, they were in a hole. Over 45 rousing second-half minutes, Pepi rose to the occasion, literally and figuratively. He powered home a header and clinched a comeback. He established himself as both the striker of the future and the striker of the now.

He entered October’s qualifying window as Berhalter’s clear choice to lead the line. And against Jamaica, he showed why.

He was quiet in the first half. But, as he said postgame, “it’s about being patient.” He was ruthless in the second. And he was the ideal frontman for a USMNT learning on the fly that, to unlock the potential of the world’s youngest roster, it must play fast.

The young, unheralded stars of the USMNT’s victory

In its first home qualifier last month, against Canada, the USMNT moved the ball painfully slow. It lacked urgency, lacked problem-solvers, lacked risk-takers. Toward the end of a scoreless first half against Jamaica on Thursday, those familiar problems reappeared. But early in the second half, goalkeeper Matt Turner started the move that spurred the turnaround. He claimed a tame Jamaica through-ball, then rushed to his feet and bowled the ball into the path of Sergiño Dest.Dest carried it over the halfway line, and found Yunus Musah. Musah propelled the U.S. forward, providing the ball progression that his team so often lacks. He charged at the penalty box, unsettling opponents. He fed Dest, who’d been freed by a clever out-to-in run from Paul Arriola. Dest crossed for Pepi, who broke the deadlock.The Jamaican defense, which bunkered and stymied the U.S for much of the first half, never got set.It was in those unscripted, unstable moments that the Americans were at their best. Then, with the lead, and with Jamaica forced to exit the comforts of its shell, space opened up. In the 62nd minute, the U.S. connected at least a dozen passes, pinging the ball side to side, pulling Jamaicans this way and that. Passing lanes widened.Tyler Adams found one, up the left flank to Antonee Robinson. Brenden Aaronson, who made a strong case for man of the match, sprinted in behind, set up Pepi’s second, and sealed the win.(Original video: ESPN) The caveat, of course, is that it’s only Jamaica, at home, the easiest of the 14 games that this qualifying gauntlet will offer. Panama won’t be as kind, nor will Costa Rica next week. Mexico, next month, will be tougher yet.“The trap is gonna be us thinking we’re great, and us thinking we’ve qualified for the World Cup,” Berhalter said. “And if we do that, we’ll get our ass kicked in Panama on Sunday.”But the hype is justified, because the players driving it are relative infants. Dest is 20. Aaronson is 20. Musah is 18. Adams, Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, the so-called veterans, are 22, 23 and 23. Gio Reyna — who, like Pulisic, was unavailable due to injury — is 18.

And then there’s Pepi, also still a teen, playing his first World Cup qualifier in front of his parents, completely unfazed. Top European clubs are already circling. Pundits are already wondering whether this is all happening too fast.

But Pepi isn’t wondering. Nor are his teammates. Nor is Berhalter.

“We’re all excited. I mean, we’re just sittin’ there, and we’re on the train,” the coach said of his newfound star. “We’re just observing everything that’s happening. It’s amazing.”

Positives & negatives from the USMNT win vs. Jamaica – and what’s to come vs. Panama

By Matthew Doyle @MattDoyle76 Friday, Oct 8, 2021, 12:26 PM

The US men’s national team got it done again Thursday night, putting together a never-actually-in-doubt-if-occasionally-a-bit-frustrating 2-0 win over Jamaica in Austin during both teams’ fourth game of this final round of World Cup qualifying.

Thanks to the win — their second straight, and second straight by multiple goals — and some help elsewhere, the US now top the Octagonal standings on goal differential. A tepid and nervous and at times borderline calamitous start to World Cup qualifying has smoothed out into something closer to what we all hoped to see from this very talented, but still impossibly young bunch.

So, things are good right now. When I wrote this column a month ago it was hard to start with the positive takeaways and the list was short. Now, as I’m writing this, I feel like I’m about to go on for a bit.

Positive takeaways

The biggest, most important thing from this game was not the play of any one particular player or the execution of any one particular attacking sequence. The biggest, most important thing is that the US played a straightforward 4-3-3 with few bells and whistles, and every player was in their best, most comfortable position.

So a lot of the good things that happened out there — and there were a ton of good things, even if the scoreline didn’t indicate a blowout — just sort of flowed naturally from how the US were arranged by head coach Gregg Berhalter. Ditto for who was out there in key spots.

Let me phrase it this way: When I saw the USMNT’s starting XI come out and visualized what this team would look like on the field, what I saw in my mind looked very much like what I eventually saw on the pitch.

That kind of predictability is good. When you have superior talent (and in my opinion the US will have superior talent in literally every game they play in the Ocho, barring a cascade of injuries), that isn’t just good: It’s match-winning.

And it will get this program back to the World Cup.

• The entire second half was an expression of how comfortable the players were in this scheme, and it highlighted some of the outstanding skills of a few of them. Berhalter talked, on ESPN’s halftime interview, about the need to move the ball forward with a bit more speed and bravery, and then three minutes into the second half this happened:

The reason Jamaica never get set is because Matt Turner takes zero time with his distribution, collecting from one side and immediately rolling out to Sergino Dest for a transition opportunity. Dest then makes a simple play, sliding it inside to Yunus Musah, who drives forward at the Jamaica backline and forces them to make a play or just keep retreating forever.

When they decide to keep retreating forever, Musah himself makes the simple play, sliding back to Dest on the overlap. Dest has the whole wing to himself because of the hard, unselfish, dangerous run Paul Arriola made.

That goal ended up being an 18-year-old to a 20-year-old to an 18-year-old.

• When Berhalter talks about verticality (and he’s talked about verticality A LOT), he doesn’t just mean the likes of Arriola or Brenden Aaronson running in behind. He also means sequences like this, where the US push the ball forward against a scrambling defense, and where one of the central midfielders takes the responsibility to be brave on the ball and punish them.

Musah’s game is tailor-made for that. His first 45 minutes were kind of invisible, which is to be expected from an 18-year-old making his World Cup qualifying debut. But in the second half I thought he was the best US player, the one who most often turned those scrambled Jamaican moments into true danger for the US.

He finished the night 18-for-19 passing into the final third, just a godsend of a “pass before the pass” guy. Getting this kid was a recruiting coup by Berhalter. He is my favorite player in the pool.

• Back to the other type of verticality: Arriola set the tone within 25 seconds, getting behind the Jamaican backline and earning what should have been a red card on Kemar Lawrence. The D.C. United attacker was clean through. Lawrence was spared the sending-off by a timid ref, but by the end of the night he might’ve wished he saw red because Arriola ran him into the ground:

Fpositives-negatives-from-the-usmnt-win-vs-jamaica-and-what-s-to-come-vs-panama&sessionId=a87cbb5d761190aca214c6c0e468b3b65d97115d&theme=light&widgetsVersion=fcb1942%3A1632982954711&width=550px Lawrence is Jamaica’s safety valve, and easily their best at progressing the ball from back to front. When they run out of ideas they funnel play to him. But because of the energy Arriola expended, that Reggae Boyz strategy was useless. Lawrence was a non-factor and so they generated nothing up their left side all night, instead having to rely upon Alvas Powell and the aged (or should I call him “Timeless?”) Je-Vaughn Watson.

It didn’t work out well for them.

• As the tweet says, Arriola’s end product was lacking. But he earned what should’ve been a red card there, and hit the defense-splitting through-ball that put Aaronson through later in the half (and was again not given as a red card). He also made side-clearing runs like on the goal, which opened space for Dest to get forward.

The defense, though. Man. One of the scariest things about Jamaica is that any semi-accurate clearance can turn into a breakaway, so it’s incumbent upon the whole front line to close down hard and make those clearances rushed, hopeful and un-targeted.

Arriola, Aaronson and Ricardo Pepi took that to heart. No Jamaica defender ever had a chance to pick up his head and dime it into space for Shamar Nicholson (who I love, and who some MLS team should sign as a DP) or any of the wingers.

Defense starts at the front, and the entire frontline was excellent defensively.

• That excellent defensive performance from the wingers meant that both fullbacks could and did get forward often, and at pace. That’s exactly how you want a 4-3-3 to function against a low block.

• This was Musah’s World Cup qualifying debut, as well as Walker Zimmerman‘s in central defense. They were two of the three best US players (Zimmerman, who started over young Chris Richards and Mark McKenzie, was absolutely the correct call in order to battle Nicholson. Hat tip to Berhalter on that one).

Luca de la Torre and Tim Weah came off the bench to make their World Cup qualifying debuts in the second half and they looked very, very good — Weah was a constant menace, and de la Torre really loves to drive the game forward with the ball, a la Musah. Never forget that this man posted his way into a World Cup qualifier.

Shaq Moore also made his WCQ debut, coming in for Dest over the final 15 minutes and putting in an unremarkable (I mean that in a good way) shift.

• Weston McKennie was back and put in what Berhalter deemed a “professional” performance. I think that was an apt description.

• I can think of no greater compliment to Aaronson, Tyler Adams, Miles Robinson and Matt Turner than “I was supremely confident each would put forth the exact type of performance we ended up seeing.” Those four guys have all managed a high level of quality and consistency to the point where it’s kinda boring to talk about them, isn’t it?

Though I will note it was fun to see Adams dropping deep to split the center backs occasionally in build-up play. He seems to relish those moments.

• The subs were sensible and point toward a smarter approach to squad rotation this window, I thought. Berhalter did a poor job of keeping the roster balanced and his players fresh last window, but he looks to have learned his lesson and took the chance to get rest for crucial players. Everything seems positioned to lean on a mix of veteran starters and backups — guys like Kellyn AcostaSebastian Lletget and George Bello are likely to see big minutes down in Panama, and guys like Aaronson and Pepi were spared playing the full 90 so should have something left in the tank — over the next two games, which means that the US should stay fresh throughout the full 270 minutes.

• One more Berhalter-related positive: When he was coaching the Columbus Crew, his teams were best known for attacking patterns of play that ended up with whoever happened to be his center forward getting a one-touch finish in the box. Gyasi Zardes, Ola Kamara and Kei Kamara all had their very best years playing in Berhalter’s system.

When he was named national team head coach, I assumed that’s what we were going to get. Maybe the US would be a little too naive defensively at times or too rigid about playing out of the back, but dammit, they’d create chances!

It’s been the opposite of that. The US, under Berhalter, have strangled the hell out of almost everyone defensively, and haven’t really been punished for playing out of the back since 2019.

At the same time, they have done a poor job of creating repeatable, high-level chances.

Until last night. Last night, in the second half, the US suddenly looked like the 2018 Crew:

Those are goals and chances off of repeatable sequences of play.

That second half was dominant. It was a version of the US I’d been hoping to see for a long, long time.

And now for the negative

Hopefully on Sunday in Panama (6 pm ET | Paramount+, Universo) they’re able to execute from the jump.

• The end product from Arriola and Gyasi needs to be better. I am a big “process” guy and the process was really, really good for the US. But these two guys are fighting for minutes and while I sang Arriola’s praises (you should, too) and Gyasi constantly put pressure on Jamaica’s backline, eventually those roles require more than great defense and precise runs. The ball has to hit the back of the net.

• The lack of 1-v-1 ability from the wingers was telling at times, at least until Weah came in. Aaronson and Arriola are both much more about stretching the field off the ball and quick combination play, and aren’t great off the dribble even when they’ve got a defender backpedaling.

• US set-piece delivery was generally really, really really poor. Really poor. Bad, even.

• Dest, who had his best game for the US (only one true defensive lapse that I noted), limped off injured. It didn’t look bad but that’s now two games in a row he’s had to come off with a knock.

I didn’t expect Dest to play against Panama anyway — he’s really not made for road qualifiers — but it’s a mild concern going forward.

What it means at Panama

Win at home, draw on the road is the path to Qatar. A point in Panama City would be fine.

That said, even if Berhalter opts for heavy squad rotation (which I suspect will be the case), the US will have a pronounced talent advantage in this game. Thomas Christiansen’s men played well in the September window, including a 3-0 evisceration of Jamaica in Jamaica, but they started October with a listless 1-0 loss at El Salvador on Thursday night.

Panama, like so many of the other tough Central American teams of the past decade, are in a bit of generational flux right now and haven’t been able to backfill as the golden generation of guys like Blas Perez, Jaime Penedo and Roman Torres have aged out.

So expect to see a lot of familiar 30-somethings — Nashville‘s Anibal Godoy, former TFC man Armando Cooper, former Rapid Gabriel Torres and former ‘Quake Harold Cummings (he’s 29, but still) — throughout Christiansen’s 4-4-2 formation.

I don’t think they’ll sit back; home teams rarely do. El Salvador didn’t, and Honduras didn’t. But thus far they haven’t really shown the ability to create danger via possession, and any midfield turnover should present an opportunity for the US to go at pace directly at the Panamanian goal.

USMNT analysis

Analysis: Pepi & Aaronson lead the U.S. past Jamaica 2-0 in Austin

The United States turned in its most complete performance of World Cup qualifying on Thursday in a 2-0 win over Jamaica in Austin. The Ricardo Pepi train continued to roll on scoring both goals, but the FC Dallas teenager was far from the only positive in this game. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta watched the 

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