USMNT routs Grenada in Nations League as Jesús Ferreira scores four


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AUSTIN — If he had his druthers, Gregg Berhalter would have chosen far stiffer competition Friday for the last home appearance by his U.S. men’s national soccer team before the World Cup later this year.

But because the Concacaf Nations League is a mandatory competition and two group-stage matches had to be played this international window, the Americans had no choice but to play Grenada, the world’s 170th-ranked team.

Not exactly the best way to prepare for Wales, England and Iran in November.

Though there was little to gain, the match did provide yet another audition for the wide-open starting striker’s job at the World Cup. The level of competition cannot be ignored, but 21-year-old Jesús Ferreira scored four goals as the Americans overcame a sluggish start and routed the Spice Boys, 5-0, before an announced 20,500 at Q2 Stadium.

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It was the most goals scored by a U.S. player since Landon Donovan in 2003.

Ferreira scored in the 43rd, 54th, 56th and 78th minutes, increasing his haul to seven in 12 appearances. His FC Dallas teammate, Paul Arriola, scored in the 62nd minute.

The victory extended the United States’ home unbeaten streak to 26, tying the program record set in 2015. They’ll cap this four-game stretch Tuesday with a Nations League match at El Salvador — an uptick in competition but still far from World Cup quality.

The Americans (1-0-0) are the tournament’s defending champion and heavily favored to top El Salvador (1-0-1) and Grenada (0-2-1) in group play, which carries into next spring.

Of greater importance, of course, is positioning themselves for the World Cup.

The final tuneups will come in friendlies in late September against Asian teams that qualified for the World Cup. The identities of those opponents will be announced soon. One friendly will be played in Germany, the other in Spain. (Because of their own Nations League schedule, European teams aren’t available for friendlies.)

After starting this camp with difficult friendlies against World Cup-bound Morocco and Uruguay, Berhalter said this week the emphasis in the Nations League games would be on “our mind-set, our intensity, what we’re bringing to this game. We’re evaluating our mentality” against lesser foes.

The Nations League best serves small countries that otherwise have a hard time arranging matches with bigger teams. But bigger teams that have qualified for the World Cup have little use for these early-stage matches.

Berhalter used Friday’s match to start a mix of regulars and reserves. Christian Pulisic and Tyler Adams weren’t even in uniform, and Walker Zimmerman, Yunus Musah and Tim Weah were on the bench.

The Spice Boys’ lineup included players from clubs in England’s fifth and sixth divisions, the U.S. second division and Grenada’s domestic league.

For most of the first half, the visitors hung in there. They were no threat going forward, but thwarted the U.S. push. The Americans played hard but not very well, failing to synchronize the attack or show polish in and around the penalty area.

The most clever move was Berhalter’s no-look, behind-the-back bounce pass to a Grenadian player for a throw-in.

The breakthrough finally came in the 43rd minute. Arriola pounced on the ball at the top of the box. His cross was deflected back to Ferreira, who shifted to his left to create a pocket of space, then ripped a left-footed, 10-yard shot into the far corner for his fourth goal in 12 appearances.

Arriola was the orchestrator again in the 54th, threading a through ball to Ferreira for a composed finish. Ferreira’s best goal came two minutes later. Off Kellyn Acosta’s corner kick, Ferreira placed a 16-yard one-timer into the top upper corner.

Arriola scored on a backside run, set up by Luca de la Torre’s pass, and Ferreira added his fourth by dragging the ball into the net from close range, assisted by Brenden Aaronson.

Ferreira’s performance will undoubtedly raise the stakes for the starting job at the World Cup. Ricardo Pepi, Jordan Pefok, Josh Sargent, Gyasi Zardes, Haji Wright and Daryl Dike remain in the running, but with just a few matches left, Ferreira on Friday pulled into the lead.

Notes: Aside from Pulisic and Adams, the other player not in uniform was center back Erik Palmer-Brown (hamstring soreness). …

The pairing of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Aaron Long was the 20th center-back combination deployed by Berhalter in his 3½-year tenure. …

Earlier Friday, Carter-Vickers agreed to a four-year deal with Glasgow Celtic. He had spent last season on loan from Tottenham Hotspur to the Scottish champions, who had an option this summer to purchase his contract. …

The U.S. team will remain in Austin until Sunday afternoon before chartering to San Salvador. All 26 players are expected to travel.


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