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USMNT routs Grenada, 7-1, in return to competitive play after World Cup

U.S. midfielder Brenden Aaronson, left, battles for the ball with Grenada's Benjamin Ettienne. (Haron Forteau/AP)
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Less than four months removed from the World Cup’s bright lights, the U.S. men’s national soccer team visited an 8,000-seat bayside stadium on a tiny Caribbean island Friday to face an opponent with players from regional leagues and some of England’s lowest divisions.

It was not by choice. But because the Concacaf Nations League is an official competition — the first since their Qatar odyssey in November-December — the No. 13 Americans were obligated to play Grenada, which sits 160 places behind them in the FIFA rankings.

Predictably, the match transpired with a wealth of goals and without any suspense as the United States roared to four first-half goals and smashed the Spice Boys, 7-1, in St. George’s, Grenada.

With a victory or draw Monday against El Salvador (1-0-2) in Orlando, the Nations League’s defending champion (2-0-1) will win Group D and advance to the final four June 15-18 in Las Vegas. The tournament, in its second edition, fills dates on the international match calendar that were once occupied by friendlies.

By finishing no worse than second in the group, the United States clinched a place in the Concacaf Gold Cup this summer.

“A result like this, you don’t want to get carried away,” interim coach Anthony Hudson said. “The importance for us is to make sure we do all the right things between now and the next game and we finish the job off.”

Christian Pulisic had a role in the first five goals, assisting directly or indirectly on four first-half tallies and scoring shortly after intermission.

Weston McKennie and Ricardo Pepi had two goals apiece and Brenden Aaronson and Alejandro Zendejas added one each as the Americans enjoyed their most lopsided victory since they buried Trinidad and Tobago, 7-0, in a January 2021 friendly in Orlando.

It also set a program record for goals scored in an away match and ended a nine-game winless streak on the road.

“We love scoring goals,” Pulisic said. “A good score line, positive result for the team. We definitely enjoyed ourselves out there.”

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Hudson marveled at not only Pulisic’s production but his hunger and commitment.

“I just can’t speak highly enough of the character of this person who is not just a talented player but is someone that I can assure you absolutely loves playing for his country,” he said. “He’s got great character and is inspiring to the rest of the group. You saw that in his performance.”

Hudson also said of his captain, “I can’t remember the amount of times he puts his body on the line. For such a big player playing for a big club [Chelsea], a huge value on him, and we go to places like this and he has no problem just giving absolutely everything he has.”

Hudson had gathered the team in January for two low-key friendlies in greater Los Angeles, though that was without most of the European-based players. This camp was a reunion for 12 players from the World Cup squad that advanced to the round of 16 before losing to the Netherlands. Seven started Friday.

Among them was Gio Reyna, who was drawn into a post-World Cup controversy involving his parents and coach Gregg Berhalter. Questions about whether the Borussia Dortmund forward would be invited to this camp — and whether he would accept — were put to rest last week when his name appeared on the 24-man roster.

Hudson and the U.S. players said all week that Reyna was focused and engaged, leaving behind any lingering issues from the World Cup, when his lack of effort nearly got him sent home early.

Grenada, a nation of 114,000, fielded starters from clubs in England’s second, fourth, fifth and sixth flights, the Caribbean leagues and the second-tier Charleston (S.C.) Battery.

In the fourth minute, Pulisic served a cross so exact to Pepi that the striker did not need to move his feet to drive in a seven-yard header for his fourth international goal.

Grenada — a 5-0 loser to the United States last June in Austin — threatened to tie in the seventh minute, but Matt Turner’s fingertip save on Jacob Berkeley-Agyepong’s 18-yard effort pushed the ball off the far post.

Illustrating the talent gap between the programs, Turner plays for Premier League leader Arsenal, Berkeley-Agyepong for Gloucester City in England’s sixth division.

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In the 20th minute, Pulisic schemed on the left side again before crossing to Aaronson for a 15-yard shot past goalkeeper Jason Belfon for his seventh international goal.

McKennie scored twice in three minutes, sandwiching a strike by Grenada’s Myles Hippolyte.

In the 31st minute, McKennie challenged a defender for Pulisic’s free kick deep in the box, regained his balance and slammed in a six-yard side volley.

After Hippolyte scored on a rasping drive from 16 yards a minute later, center back Auston Trusty, making his U.S. debut, headed Pulisic’s free kick to McKennie for a close-range poke and his 11th international goal.

Pulisic got into the scoring act in the 49th minute with a one-timer under Belfon for his 23rd goal in 57 U.S. appearances. Pepi added his second of the night, collecting Luca De La Torre’s through ball for a clear finish in the 53rd minute.

Zendejas, a dual national who last week chose the United States over Mexico, scored from 23 yards in the 73rd minute, nine minutes after he entered the match.