Clint Dempsey nets hat trick in return as U.S. thrashes Honduras

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Clint Dempsey came back from an irregular heartbeat at age 34 to score his second international hat trick, 18-year-old phenom Christian Pulisic had one goal and set up three others and the U.S. routed Honduras 6-0 Friday night to get back in contention for an eighth straight World Cup berth.

"Three massive points," captain Michael Bradley said. "No two ways about that."

Surprise starter Sebastian Lletget got his first international goal in the fifth minute after Pulisic's shot deflected off the goalkeeper, Michael Bradley doubled the lead in the 27th and Dempsey scored off Pulisic's perfectly weighted chip in the 32nd.

Finding room to maneuver in a central midfield role, Pulisic made it 4-0 just 12 seconds into the second half with his fourth international goal. Dempsey rounded the keeper to score following a feed from Pulisic in the 49th minute, and Dempsey got another on a 23-yard free kick in the 54th.

With 55 international goals, Dempsey moved to within two of Landon Donovan's American record.

"I'm a fighter," Dempsey said. "Look for the opportunity to get out there and show that I should be around still."

In its first competitive match since Bruce Arena replaced Jurgen Klinsmann as coach, the U.S. moved from last to fourth in the final round of CONCACAF region qualifying, tied at three points with Honduras and with Trinidad and Tobago but ahead on goal difference, Mexico leads with seven points, followed by Costa Rica with six and Panama with four.

The top three nations qualify for next year's tournament in Russia, and the fourth-place nation advances to a playoff. With a victory at Panama on Tuesday, the Americans could move into the top three.

"If we get a result in Panama, things change fast," midfielder Alejandro Bedoya said.

The U.S. had never before won a Hexagonal game by more than three goals.

"This team is really strong mentally," Pulisic said. "It shows good heart."

The American Outlaws, one of the team's supporters' groups, and the rest of the lively crowd of 17,729 loved every second of this long-awaited showing.

Gloom had descended upon the Americans in November when they opened the Hex with a 2-1 home loss to Mexico and a 4-0 wipeout at Costa Rica. The defeats caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Klinsmann, who had coached the Americans since 2011, and bring back Arena, who led the team from 1998 to 2006.

Dempsey was sidelined from August until this month by an irregular heartbeat and started only because of injuries to Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris.

"We didn't have anyone else," Arena said. "It made it easy for me."

Tim Howard, the Americans' 38-year-old goalkeeper, earned his 38th shutout. He returned only two weeks ago from a leg injury sustained in the November loss to Mexico.

Geoff Cameron, back from a knee strain that had sidelined him for fourth months, was shifted to right back from central defense because of injuries to others, and Jorge Villafana was inserted on the left.

But there were yet more injuries. Lletget hurt his left ankle on Ever Alvarado's tackle, was replaced in the 18th minute by Bedoya and left the stadium on crutches. Defender John Brooks was stretchered off the field, hand over his face, in the 69th due to dehydration.

Arena admitted he decided weeks ago to play Pulisic in central midfield. With Fabian Johnson hurt, Arena started wide midfielders largely overlooked by Klinsmann: Lletget and Darlington Nagbe.

Wearing red from head to toe, the U.S. went ahead when Jozy Altidore poked the ball ahead to Pulisic. His left-footed shot went off goalkeeper Donis Escobar, and Lletget tapped in the ball with his right foot from two yards.

Bradley, given his debut by Arena in 2006, doubled the lead when he took a pass from Bedoya, cut to his left, took four touches and cut the ball back to beat Escobar with a one-hopper from about 25 yards.

Showing poise beyond his years, Pulisic created the third goal when he lofted a pass to Dempsey, who allowed the ball of bounce off his right shoulder. Dempsey held off Henry Figueroa and, while falling, scored with his right foot from eight yards.

"It looked pretty," Howard said. "Hopefully, we can keep that up."

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USA VS. HONDURAS: SCORE AND REACTION FOR WORLD CUP 2018 QUALIFYING

It was a match the United States needed, and the team's best players responded in a big way.

Team USA came through with a 6-0 win over Honduras Friday in San Jose, giving the squad its first points in this round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup.

The match was the first competitive contest under Bruce Arena since he took over the team in November. The pressure was especially high after losing the first two matches of the Hex, leading to Jurgen Klinsmann's firing.

Fortunately, the team stepped up with an excellent offensive performance to blow away Honduras and earn three key points.

Christian Pulisic was outstanding with a goal and two assists as he truly established himself as a force on the international scene. Michael Bradley came through with one of his best goals for the national team in years, while Sebastian Lletget scored his first-ever goal at the international level, but was forced off was an injury in the 18th minute.

Mexico is on top of the CONCACAF table with after its 2-0 win over Costa Rica earlier in the night, tallying seven points in three matches. However, the United States made up some ground on the rest of the field, moving into a tie for fourth place with Honduras and Trinidad and Tobago.

Top three qualify for the World Cup with the fourth team advancing to a playoff.

The match started just about as well as the United States could have hoped.

Honduras earned a few chances off sloppy defense by the United States, but the visitors weren't able to take advantage near the net.

This ended up costing them as a pair of goals by two of the most veteran players in the lineup helped blow open the match. Bradley scored with an impressive left-footed strike from outside the box, followed just a few minutes later by Dempsey off a great pass from Pulisic.

Just 32 minutes into the contest, the Americans were up 3-0.

The second half was just an onslaught, with Pulisic scoring in the opening seconds, followed by two more goals from Dempsey to double the lead in less than 10 minutes.

Honduras had led possession, but the U.S. was simply making the most of its opportunities every time it had the ball in the attacking half. Pulisic's presence in the midfield also made a huge difference with his precise passing.

Solid defense and some strong plays by Tim Howard helped preserve the clean sheet in a dominant performance for the Americans.

Injuries are the only concern at this point, with Lletget leaving early and John Brooks being stretchered off in the second half.

The United States will go back on the road in its next match to face Panama on Tuesday. If this team can keep the momentum over the weekend, it will be difficult to stop.

Honduras will host Costa Rica as it tries to make its own move up the standings.

Obviously, he didn't regret the decision after he scored a hat trick.

"He was exceptional," Arena said, per Julian Gonzalez of beIN Sports. "Damn good."

While the team had built a 3-0 lead at halftime, the team didn't rest on its laurels while scoring three more goals to remove any doubt.

"I was amazed at how we came out in the second half," Arena added, per Jeff Carlisle of ESPN.

The rest of qualifying won't be quite as easy, but the team got off to an excellent restart under the new coach.


USA CRUISES TO 6-0 WIN VS. HONDURAS IN CRITICAL WORLD CUP QUALIFIER

SAN JOSE, Calif. (March 24, 2017) – The U.S. Men’s National Team used a hat trick from Clint Dempsey as well as goals from Sebastian Lletget, Michael Bradley and Christian Pulisic to earn an emphatic 6-0 Final Round World Cup Qualifying win against Honduras at Avaya Stadium. The victory gives the U.S. its first three points of the Hexagonal and pushes the team into fourth place, just one point behind Tuesday’s opponents Panama for CONCACAF’s third and final automatic World Cup berth.

The U.S. was clinical in front of goal all night, converting six of the eight shots it put on target. That finishing touch told from the outset as it took the U.S. just five minutes to gain a lead when Lletget tallied his first international goal by finishing Pulisic’s deflected shot at the back post. The U.S. doubled the advantage through Bradley in the 27th minute, before Pulisic slipped Dempsey in on goal to score his first in the 32nd, sending the MNT into halftime with a 3-0 advantage.

The U.S. was relentless coming out of the locker room, with Pulisic converting 12 seconds into the second half to give the MNT a 4-0 lead. A well-worked play between Jozy Altidore and Pulisic led to Dempsey finishing his second of the game in the 49th minute, before the veteran forward scored his third from a brilliant free kick in the 54th minute. Dempsey’s hat trick is the second of his international career and first by a U.S. player in World Cup Qualifying since Jozy Altidore bagged all three in a 3-0 U.S. win on April 1, 2009 vs. Trinidad & Tobago

The win is the largest margin of victory for the U.S. against Honduras as well as the team’s biggest in the Final Round of FIFA World Cup Qualifying.

Goal Scoring Rundown:
USA – Sebastian Lletget, 5th minute: The Honduras defense struggled to control the USA’s early high press, with Ever Alvarado popping a clearance straight up in the air. Jozy Altidore chested it down and began a nice combination with Christian Pulisic, sending the 18-year-old into the box along on the left. The MNT midfielder rifled a quick shot that deflected off the goalkeeper straight into the path of Lletget, who easily tapped home at the back post. USA 1, HON 0 [WATCH]

USA – Michael Bradley (Alejandro Bedoya), 27th minute: After sustaining some pressure from Honduras, the U.S. double its lead through its captain. Alejandro Bedoya collected a pass on the right sideline and laid it back for Michael Bradley. The veteran midfielder switched towards the left, rounding Jorge Claros to gain more space and unleash a shot that skipped off the wet turf and inside the lower right post. USA 2, HON 0 [WATCH]

USA – Clint Dempsey (Christian Pulisic), 32nd minute: Continuing to press the attack, Darlington Nagbe headed a ball into the path of Pulisic who turned and took a stride before sending a deft chip into the path of Dempsey. With Henry Figueroa on his back, the bullish forward took the ball off his right shoulder before muscling off the Honduras defender and chopping a rising shot past Donis Escober and inside the top right corner. USA 3, HON 0 [WATCH]

USA – Christian Pulisic (Jozy Altidore), 46th minute: Christian Pulisic started and finished the fourth goal, which came straight from the second-half kickoff. Pulisic laid back to Michael Bradley in the center circle, who chipped a ball to the right sideline for Altidore. The expert forward then nodded ahead for Dempsey, who got a foot to it, but briefly lost possession to Maynor Figueroa. Dempsey won the ball back and played for Altidore, who then threaded Pulisic into the box, where the young attacker coolly finished inside the lower right corner 12 seconds after kicking off. USA 4, HON 0 [WATCH]

USA – Clint Dempsey (Christian Pulisic), 49th minute: After pressure from Pulisic forced a turnover at midfield, Altidore drove up the left flank and centered for Pulisic, who caught Dempsey strolling straight up the middle and a perfectly weighted through ball. The newly returned forward split the Honduran defense and rounded Escober to bury his second of the game. USA 5, HON 0 [WATCH]

USA – Clint Dempsey, 54th minute: After Pulisic earned a free kick just outside the penalty area, Dempsey lined up over the ball and rifled a right-footed blast that swung inside the top left corner to complete his second career hat trick. The goal also pushed Dempsey back past Jozy Altidore and into first on the MNT’s all-time World Cup Qualifying goals list with 17. USA 6, HON 0 [WATCH] FINAL

Key Saves and Defensive Stops:
USA – Tim Howard, 16th minute:  After Omar Gonzalez made an initial clearance on a through ball, Emilio Izaguirre collected on the left and charged up the flank before centering a cross. The ball fell for Alberth Ellis right at the penalty spot, where he settled with his left before turning to hit a low, right-footed effort that Howard was quick to get down to save.

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