FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The United States men’s soccer team ended a pandemic-shortened year with a blowout that raised confidence heading into a busy 2021 highlighted by the first eight World Cup qualifiers jammed into an 11-week span.
Chris Mueller had two goals and two assists in his international debut, Ayo Akinola got a goal in his first game and the US overwhelmed El Salvador, 6-0, in an exhibition Wednesday night.
Paul Arriola scored in his first start for club or country since tearing his right Achilles’ tendon in D.C. United’s preseason match on Feb. 15. Brenden Aaronson, playing his second international game following his debut against Costa Rica in February, got his first goal and assist, and Sebastian Lletget scored his fourth goal in 17 international appearances and added an assist.
“The killer instinct is a great step for us” Arriola said. “This could be World Cup qualifying. and I think we need to just be able to execute and be ready and not take our foot off the pedal. I think it’s going to be a great year for us next year.”
Before a limited crowd of about 2,500 in the Americans’ first match before fans since the pandemic began, Bill Hamid got the shutout in his first international start since a 2-1 loss at Ireland in June 2018.
Ranked No. 22, the US used a lineup mostly from eliminated Major League Soccer teams and had wide stretches of open space against 70th-ranked El Salvador in a match played outside the FIFA calendar and without top stars. Coming off a 6-2 win over Panama, the Americans scored a half-dozen goals in consecutive games for the first time since 2013 against Guatemala and Belize.
“That’s the type of football we want to play. And we showed that we can do it,” US coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Guys are pushing, people are saying if we have a top group, I want to be part of it.”
The US was unbeaten with three wins and one draw in 2020, its fewest games in a year since playing three in 1987.
Next year includes a pair of a January exhibition with domestic players, March friendlies likely in Europe, a CONCACAF Nations League semifinal against Honduras in June followed by a matchup with the Mexico-Costa Rica winner, the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July with a roster probably missing top players and the start of World Cup qualifying in September. There also is the possibility the first Olympic appearance since 2008 for the U.S.