SAN JOSE, Calif. — Facing as close to a must-win situation as it had in many years for a World Cup qualifier, the U.S. poured in three goals in the first 32 minutes and rode a Clint Dempsey hat trick to a 6-0 beatdown of Honduras in coach Bruce Arena’s first qualifier since 2005.
The U.S. marketing slogan for this game was #Get3—as in the three points that were crucial after losing the first two Hexagonal games in November—but few would have imagined that the U.S. would get three goals in the first half. In the end, the raft of goals came from Sebastian Lletget (who had to leave the game early with an injury), Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey (three) and Christian Pulisic.
Entering the night in last place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal standings and with a -5 goal differential, the win–and vast margin–shoots the U.S. up to fourth place after three games.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
Arena had the U.S. ready to play
After several players looked like they quit in the 4-0 November loss at Costa Rica that sealed Jurgen Klinsmann’s fate as the coach, the Americans were locked in from the start on Friday. Local boy Lletget, who was making his first qualifying start and probably wouldn’t have been in camp under Klinsmann, pounced on the rebound from Pulisic’s shot just five minutes in after Jozy Altidore had sent a gorgeous ball to Pulisic. It was the earliest U.S. qualifying goal since Brian McBride against Trinidad and Tobago in 2005, and it set the tone for the game. Every U.S. player had a fire—not just to win but to demolish the opponent. It was only one game, of course, but this was some sexy football, too.
Pulisic had his breakout U.S. game
The 18-year-old is the U.S.’s best player, period, but on Friday he really showed it in a game that mattered. What’s more, his understanding with Dempsey was almost telepathic. A delicate Pulisic lob found Dempsey for his first goal, when he bulled defenders off him and finished with aplomb. And a dagger of a pass on the floor from Pulisic to a streaking Dempsey created Dempsey’s second goal.
Arena surprised some people by opting to start Pulisic in the central attacking midfield instead of out wide, but it was a move that paid off in spades. Pulisic doesn’t have a ceiling, and that’s awfully exciting for U.S. fans.
Dempsey is still a gunslinger
It was only a few months ago that Dempsey’s playing career was in jeopardy due to an irregular heartbeat. In January, Arena said he wouldn’t call in Dempsey for these games, that it was too soon after his return to playing for Seattle, but then he reconsidered when the U.S. ran into a spate of injuries (including forwards Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris).
Not only did Dempsey start on Friday, but he had a hat trick of beautiful goals that displayed the wide breadth of the Texan’s talents. The first goal showed off his strength (when many forwards would have hit the ground on the contact). The second, his run-making intelligence and connection with a terrific passer (Pulisic). The third? Well, that was all Dempsey, bending a free kick in from distance.
Dempsey entered the game with 52 all-time U.S. goals, No. 2 in men’s national team history behind Landon Donovan’s 57. Now Dempsey is at 55 and within striking distance, perhaps as early as Tuesday night in Panama.
Meanwhile, his U.S. team seems like another one entirely from that team we saw in November.