U.S., Riding Its Newest Star, Beats Jamaica in Qualifier

AUSTIN, Texas — Ricardo Pepi jogged off the sector as the quantity in the stadium started to swell. With two masterful touches of the ball, he had finished his job for the evening, and he was being substituted out of the sport with greater than 20 minutes remaining.

Before reaching the bench, Pepi, an 18-year-old Mexican-American striker from Texas, put his head down, touched the grass and crossed himself. All the whereas, a chant constructed up in the stands:

“Pepi! Pepi! Pepi!”

Youth is an advanced factor.

When issues are going unsuitable, as they did for much of last month for the United States males’s soccer group, youth can really feel like a obvious legal responsibility. When issues are going proper, as they did Thursday evening in Austin, it can provide you all of the hope in the world.

Pepi, for an evening, offered a imaginative and prescient of a glimmering future for the Americans and the 20,500 followers in attendance, scoring two second-half targets to steer the United States to a 2-Zero victory over Jamaica in its fourth World Cup qualifying match.

In counting on such a young group, with so many key gamers in their teenagers and early 20s, U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter has arrange a race in opposition to time of kinds: corralling a steady of younger, comparatively unaccomplished abilities, and hoping they’ll blossom in time to punch the nation’s ticket to the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“I don’t even think we think of ourselves as young guys anymore,” Brenden Aaronson, a 20-year-old wing from New Jersey, stated. “We’re put in a situation where the whole country is looking at us, and we need to perform.”

So was this a show of dramatic maturation in one month’s time, or a walkover victory in opposition to a group struggling its own period of disarray? A little bit of each, maybe, however the United States group and its followers won’t care both approach. What issues today is stockpiling factors, as many as potential, earlier than subsequent March.

That mission had gotten off to a stuttering begin final month, when the Americans’ first three video games had functioned as a hazing ritual of kinds for the younger group of gamers. Sixteen of them made their World Cup qualifying debuts, a quantity regularly invoked in the matches’ aftermath by the group’s public relations employees to focus on its youth, its profuse room to develop.

“Coming into the last camp, maybe we were just a little bit naïve and didn’t know what to expect and that’s why we had to use the first three games as a learning process,” the group’s 22-year-old captain, Tyler Adams, stated this week.

Their issues over these three video games, which yielded two disappointing ties and one come-from-behind win, have been most vividly clear on offense. The Americans handed ponderously, stifling any ahead momentum they may hope to construct. Opposing groups sat comfortably in their very own finish, and the U.S. failed to seek out methods by.

Amid these rising pains, one of many quickest learners was Pepi, who scored and arrange two targets in the group’s third recreation final month in Honduras, serving to the group return house with a wanted win and a surge of fine feeling.

On Thursday evening, he was one in all a number of American gamers storming into the field in the 49th minute as Yunus Musah — like Pepi, solely 18 years outdated — made a harmful dribbling run by the guts of the Jamaican protection. Musah slipped the ball to Sergiño Dest, who curled the ball towards the mouth of aim, the place Pepi curled right into a crouch and let it look off his brow and contained in the left submit.

The similar, direct strategy 13 minutes later produced the group’s second aim: Another surging run — this time down the left facet, by Aaronson — coaxed Pepi right into a full dash into the field. When the ball arrived at his toes, he splayed his legs for a clear tap-in that despatched drinks flying in celebration in the stands behind the aim.

“It’s amazing,” Berhalter stated. “An 18-year-old gets an opportunity, and he takes advantage of it.”

Thursday’s recreation introduced the return of Weston McKennie, who was banished from the group final month after a gratuitous violation of its coronavirus protocols. At 23, he’s seen as an indispensable participant, at the same time as his immaturity usually peeks by.

The group was captained once more by Adams, a sage veteran at 22. Dest, 20, was harmful and Musah, 18, indispensable.

All these younger gamers, for an evening, took their clean slate and produced a hopeful image.

Youth could be a superbly difficult factor.

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