Dominant U.S. soccer still making progress, routs El Salvador in friendly

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El Salvador midfielder Denis Pineda (8) and U.S forward Chris Mueller (11) battle for the ball, Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, during the first half of an international friendly match in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
El Salvador midfielder Denis Pineda (8) and U.S forward Chris Mueller battle for the ball on Wednesday during the first half an international friendly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

For the U.S. national team, Wednesday’s 6-0 rout of El Salvador in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., was just another step on a long path coach Gregg Berhalter hopes will end at the next World Cup in Qatar. And the journey is proceeding just as methodically as Wednesday’s win.

Berhalter called up three distinctly different rosters for the four games on his team’s COVID-abbreviated schedule this year, yet the U.S. didn’t lose a game. In fact, the U.S. is 6-1-1 over the last 14 months, outscoring opponents 28-5 over that span.

But for Berhalter the most important figure is 42, the number of players he got to see play in 2020.

“It’s just the process, right?” he asked Wednesday. “The process is to develop. To get as many players into our program as possible and get them familiar with the way we play.

“All that’s important and it’s good to keep moving forward, keep making progress.”

The auditions continued against El Salvador, with five players making their first senior team appearances and three of them figuring in the scoring with Orlando City’s Chris Mueller picking up two goals and two assists, Toronto’s Ayo Akinola getting a goal and the Galaxy’s Julian Araujo picking up an assist.

Berhalter has given 34 players their international debuts in his 22 games as coach, by far the most of any U.S. manager in the modern era. And with Dave Sar-achan, who preceded Ber-halter, using 23 first-timers in his 12 games as interim coach, 57 players have debuted for the national team in the last three years.

“We still have give this group time. We can’t rush it,” said Berhalter, whose team faces a grueling schedule next year, one that includes the Gold Cup, Nations League tournaments, eight World Cup qualifiers and

the Tokyo Olympics. “I think the sky’s the limit. But the first thing is give the group time.”

The group didn’t need much time Wednesday, scoring five times in a 10-minute span early in the first half to put the game away. Paul Arriola, the only man who played Wednesday and also started in the final game of the last World Cup qualifying tournament, put the Americans ahead to stay with a left-footed shot from the center of the box in the 17th minute.

Mueller, whose hard work set up that goal, would score two of his own sandwiched around one score from the Galaxy’s Sebastian Lletget. For Mueller, whose second score came off a perfect cross from Araujo, the two goals made him just the third American since 1968 to score twice in his debut but the second to do so in the last month, following Sebastian Soto, who also had two goals eight minutes apart in last month’s 6-2 win over Panama.

When Akinola made it 5-0 before a half hour had expired, the rout was on.

The U.S. was so dominant, with Brenden Aaronson’s score early in the second half, the Americans had six goals and 19 shots before El Salvador, playing for the first time in 10 months, had taken its second try.

For Mueller, however, it was all part of the process,

“Obviously it’s my step. I played one game. Let’s just keep moving,” he said. “Let’s see what happens.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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