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Pepi lifts USMNT over El Salvador, into Nations League finals

Icon Sportswire / Getty

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Ricardo Pepi scored on his first touch of the match in the 62nd minute, and the United States beat El Salvador 1-0 on Monday night to reach the CONCACAF Nations League final four.

The 13th-ranked U.S. (3 wins, 1 draw) extended its unbeaten streak against No. 32 El Salvador (1 win, 1 loss, 2 draws) to 22 matches since 1992, including 16 wins. The Americans joined Mexico in the Nations League semifinals at Las Vegas on June 15, part of a final four that will include Canada or Honduras along with Costa Rica or Panama.

El Salvador, which needed a win to advance, has lost four straight matches and is winless in six.

Pepi replaced Daryl Dike in the 60th minute and ran onto a pass Weston McKennie released at the midfield stripe. The 20-year-old striker, dropped from the U.S. World Cup roster, took a touch, fought off an arm from defender Roberto Domínguez and chipped the ball with his right foot over goalkeeper Mario González for his sixth goal in 14 international appearances and third in two games.

At 20 years, 77 days, Pepi became the third-fastest American to score six goals behind Christian Pulisic (18 years, 263 days) and Jozy Altidore (19 years, 146 days), according to Opta.

Coming off a 7-1 rout Friday at Grenada, the U.S. won consecutive matches for the first time since a December 2021 exhibition against Bosnia and Herzegovina, and a January 2022 qualifier against El Salvador.

McKennie was wide with a header in first-half stoppage time, and Gio Reyna hit the near post from 15 yards in the first minute of the second half off a feed from Pulisic.

After the final whistle, American goalkeeper Matt Turner did a televised gender reveal of his second child by kicking a ball on the field that exploded with pink smoke.

U.S. interim coach Anthony Hudson changed seven starters, inserting right back Sergiño Dest, central defenders Miles Robinson and Tim Ream, left back Antonee Robinson, midfielder Yunus Musah, and Alejandro Zendejas and Dike at forward.

Miles Robinson played his first international match since the final World Cup qualifier last March 30 after recovering from a torn left Achilles with Atlanta sustained on May 7. He was the only player from Major League Soccer in the U.S. starting lineup, and he paired with Ream in central defense for the first time since the opening qualifier at El Salvador on Sept. 2, 2021.

Dike, who played for Orlando in 2020 and ’21, made his first national team start since July 2021.


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