Three Takeaways: Ricardo Pepi settles the debate in USMNT 1-0 El Salvador

Christian Pulisic and the USMNT vs El Salvador Monday night.

Ricardo Pepi came off the bench to score the game-winner in USMNT’s 1-0 win over El Salvador Monday night in Orlando. The U.S. were toothless in front of goal for 60 minutes until Pepi made his introduction into the game. A nice ball by Weston McKenzie found Pepi’s run, who muscled off his marker and delivered a lovely chip over Mario Gonzalez. The result gives Anthony Hudson’s men a spot in the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal in June, and top spot in Group D of League A. Some notable things to discuss in this one, so let’s take a look.

Three takeaways from USMNT 1-0 El Salvador

Ricardo Pepi settles the USMNT No. 9 debate

Young Ricardo Pepi didn’t start this match, that nod went to Daryl Dike. Dike tried his best to get on the scoresheet, but simply didn’t find the opportunities. Dike hasn’t scored for the USMNT since grabbing a brace against Martinique back in July 2021. Hudson gave him a quarter of an hour before pulling the plug, sending Pepi on in his place. And inside 60 seconds of his introduction, he scored the match-winner.

Make that three international goals to cap off a nice March for Pepi. He scored twice against Grenada last Friday. The 20-year-old is now firmly the number-1 striker in the pool and in the team. He simply operates differently than his peers, Dike, Josh Sargent and Jesus Ferreira. His run off the shoulder of his marker for the goal was great, and the finish was sweet. When the U.S. are at their best, he’s part of the formula. He helps make things tick and brings others involved, Pepi is what this squad of players need. I’m sure USMNT fans don’t have any more hard feelings over his omission from the 2022 World Cup.

El Salvador still have a ways to go

As a native Salvadoran, I kind of had the feeling this match would play out exactly as it did. And honestly, El Salvador was better than I envisioned, they were the better team in the first half. Jairo Henriquez had the first chance of the match, but his low curler whistled just wide of the far post. La Selecta had neutralized their opponents and minimized their looks at goal. Hugo Perez had his tactics spot on in the first half.

But if you know anything about this version of El Salvador – chance creation and goal scoring have been a major problem. The starting XI doesn’t have new players in it, because there aren’t many alternatives. It’s the reality, the starting XI features many of the same players that took part in World Cup Qualifying that failed to clinch a spot in Qatar. It’s very possible most of those same players, with few additions, will be the ones looking to qualify for 2026. Because that’s their best lineup, hoping to capitalize on the few chances they can muster in games. And against the likes of USMNT, Mexico, Canada, they’ll always be the underdog. Hugo Perez has his work cut out for him.

Anthony Hudson is making a nice case to the permanent USMNT manager

Is he the odds-on favorite to be the permanent USMNT job? Probably not. I’m sure there’s a contingent of USMNT fans that want Gregg Berhalter back. You can be sure there’s a larger section of fans that want Hugo Perez instead. But for the moment, Anthony Hudson is getting wins with this current crop of players. Are they significantly better? It’s marginal for now, but they’ll have the summer to make sure they come away with another Nations League trophy.

The name of the game is winning. It also helps bringing in new kids such as Taylor Booth and Alex Zendejas, including the returning Antonee Robinson. All in all, a good night for everyone involved with the USMNT.

Photo Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports of El Salvador midfielder Leonardo Menjívar (13) and United States of America forward Christian Pulisic (10) on Mar 27, 2023; Orlando, Florida, USA