The U.S. men's national team begun life in the Concacaf Nations League with a bang as it dominated Cuba in a 7-0 rout at D.C. United's Audi Field Friday night.
Weston McKennie's hat trick less than 13 minutes in put the U.S. in complete control as it got off to a strong start in a group featuring Cuba and Canada. Canada swept Cuba in a pair of matches last month, earning a +7 goal differential in the process. The U.S. matched that tally in one game.
Eleven years ago to the day, the Americans beat Cuba 6-1 in a World Cup qualifier in Washington, D.C., and a similar scoreline unfolded Friday, on a night when the U.S. won its 11th straight in the all-time series between the two nations.
In addition to McKennie's three goals, Jordan Morris added a goal and three assists, while Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic also found the back of the net.
The U.S. is missing some key names for this window, with Jozy Altidore, Tyler Adams, John Brooks and Tim Weah all out injured, but it had more than enough to earn the three points Friday.
The U.S. got off to a dream start, as half a minute in, Morris fired in a cross from the right that bounced through the Cuba box. It fell to an unmarked McKennie, who took his time and took his chance, firing home to make it 1-0. The goal was the quickest for the USA since Clint Dempsey's memorable goal vs. Ghana in the opening game of the 2014 World Cup.
The same combination resulted in the USA's second goal. It was a Morris cross from the right finding McKennie at the doorstep, and while the Schalke midfielder didn't provide the cleanest of touches, he did enough to poke it home in the fifth minute.
After two assists, Morris got a goal of his own four minutes later. McKennie played provider after being set up by Sargent, and Morris finished from a left-sided angle to make it 3-0 in the ninth minute.
McKennie got his hat trick in the 13th minute. The action came down the right again, with Morris feeding right back Reggie Cannon, who was surging forward. Cannon crossed to the goal mouth, where McKennie tapped home for his third of the night to make it 4-0.
McKennie could have had a pair of goals in the 20 minutes that followed, but goalkeeper Nelson Johnston did his part to manage the damage and keep the Texan from padding his stat line.
The damage eventually worsened, though, with an own goal accounting for the USA's fifth. McKennie sparked it with a gorgeous no-look feed to play Morris through, and the Seattle Sounders star's ball from the left ricocheted off Johnston and defender Dario Ramos, gift-wrapping the 5-0 scoreline.
It became 6-0 a couple of minutes later. Jackson Yueill launched a ball from his deep-lying midfield position down the left channel for Morris, who cut back a pass for the trailing Sargent. The Werder Bremen rising talent fired home inside the near post to get on the board and pad the lead.
The only negative in the opening 45 minutes for the U.S. came at the end of the first half, when Sargent came down awkwardly after a header and needed to be tended to after holding his foot. He returned to the match, though, alleviating any fears.
Berhalter didn't take any chances with his first-half stars, bringing Paul Arriola and Tyler Boyd on in place of McKennie and Morris for the start of the second half.
While the rest of his teammates were stuffing their stats, Pulisic remained largely quiet, but that changed just after the hour mark. Daniel Morejon was guilty of a handball in the box after his extended arm blocked a cross, and Pulisic happily stepped to the spot and fired high and down the middle to give the USA a 7-0 lead.
It could've been 8-0 after Cristian Roldan fired a left-footed rocket from the edge of the box in the 79th minute, but Johnston made a sensational save, extending his arm to his right as he instinctively reacted to push it around the post.
Sargent also missed a late chance to add to the rout, getting in behind on a breakaway before pulling up and firing over the bar.
Here was the USA lineup for the night:
Here were the rosters for both sides:
GOALKEEPERS: Brad Guzan (Atlanta United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Zack Steffen (Fortuna Düsseldorf)
DEFENDERS: Reggie Cannon (FC Dallas), Nick Lima (San Jose Earthquakes), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Daniel Lovitz (Montreal Impact), Matt Miazga (Reading), Tim Ream (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)
MIDFIELDERS: Brenden Aaronson (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Sebastian Lletget (LA Galaxy), Weston McKennie (Schalke), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew), Jackson Yueill (San Jose Earthquakes)
FORWARDS: Paul Arriola (D.C. United), Corey Baird (Real Salt Lake), Tyler Boyd (Besiktas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen), Gyasi Zardes (Columbus Crew)
GOALKEEPERS: Nelson Johnston (Santiago de Cuba), Elier Pozo (Pinar del Rio), Sandy Sanchez (Don Bosco)
DEFENDERS: Jose Armelo (Pinar del Rio) Karel Espino (Artemisa), Yonaidis Garcia (Camaguey), Felipe Hurtado (Camaguey), Daniel Morejon (Villa Clara), Yosel Piedra (Universidad San Carlos), Dario Ramos (Artemisa), Erick Rizo (Santiago de Cuba)
MIDFIELDERS: Rolando Abreu (Santiago de Cuba), Aricheel Hernandez (Independiente), Anibal La Perea (Ciego de Avila), Lazaro Monzon (Villa Clara), Luis Paradela (Reno 1868), Jose Perez (Ciudad Habana), Randys Reve (Santiago de Cuba), Jean Carlos Rodriguez (Pinar del Rio)
FORWRDS: Manuel Cruz (Camaguey), Maykel Reyes (Pinar del Rio)