Ricardo Pepi continues hot streak as USMNT routs Oman: What we learned in this international window

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The United States men’s national team defeated Oman 4-0 in a friendly Tuesday at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minn. Here’s what you need to know:

  • U.S. striker Folarin Balogun opened the scoring in the 13th minute, marking his second international goal for the Americans since switching allegiances from England earlier this year.
  • Brenden Aaronson and Ricardo Pepi replaced Balogun and Christian Pulisic at the half, with both subs later scoring. Aaronson’s goal came off a free kick in the 60th minute while Pepi’s was his sixth goal in his last six international games.
  • Ethan Horvath started in goal for the USMNT in place of Matt Turner. Ben Cremaschi, the 18-year-old Inter Miami midfielder, and 20-year-old forward Kevin Paredes made their U.S. debuts; the latter sent in a cross that Oman knocked in as an own goal.

The Athletic’s instant analysis:

The first window back under Berhalter

After last coaching the team at the 2022 World Cup before being rehired by new sporting director Matt Crocker after his contract expired, Gregg Berhalter completed his first window back in charge of the national team. It was a pair of overmatched opponents, but with a 4-0 win over Oman following the 3-0 win over Uzbekistan, the road to the 2026 World Cup is underway.

The USMNT dominated Oman and didn’t let up after scoring the first goal early, a critique of their performance against Uzbekistan. Balogun opened the scoring in the 13th minute and the U.S. kept attacking with urgency, finding joy particularly via big switches from Weston McKennie on the left to Tim Weah and the right flank. Kristoffer Lund provided balance on the left, constantly overlapping and allowing Pulisic to drift centrally. Balogun and Pulisic subbed off at halftime to return to their clubs in the best possible fitness.

The Americans added to the lead with three goals in the second half, a better reflection on the scoreline to their dominance.

Cremaschi debut in the 71st minute was also a notable moment.

Oman and Uzbekistan are ranked 73rd and 74th, respectively, in the latest FIFA world rankings. The Americans dominated weaker opponents and did their job, but the task wasn’t arduous. More can be learned and analyzed against Germany and Ghana in October. — Bogert


McKennie: A stellar performance for McKennie, particularly encouraging in how he dictated the game with passing. That’s not typically the recipe for McKennie’s big impact on games.

Lund: A name few national team fans had on their radar before his surprise inclusion in the camp, Lund had a consistent and strong night at left back. A like-for-like replacement for Antonee Robinson — that is, a left-footed, athletic, overlapping left back — has failed to establish over the last few years, with natural right backs Sergiño Dest and Joe Scally the de facto backup left backs. Lund has firmly entered his name in the conversation now.

Pepi: Another goal off the bench for Pepi, who now has nine goals in 18 caps. Great return for the 20-year-old, including six goals in six appearances this year — all but two of those goals off the bench. — Bogert

Highlight of the game

Key stat

Pepi has scored four goals off the bench for the USMNT this year, equaling the most substitute goals by a player in a single year in team history, per OptaJack.

Why did the U.S. play Uzbekistan and Oman in this window?

As The Athletic first reported back in February, U.S. Soccer was looking to line up friendlies against teams like Argentina and Brazil for the final three international windows of 2023, but when it was announced at the FIFA Congress in March that CONMEBOL World Cup qualifiers would be played at these times, the U.S. federation had to change course and find other opponents. With European teams engaged in Euro 2024 qualifiers and African teams doing Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers, that essentially left Asian sides among the few remaining.

Required reading

(Photo: Nick Wosika / USA Today)

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