Forward duo steps up, Yunus Musah shines again for US men's national team in rout of Panama

Sebastian Soto - US Under-20s - Thumbs up

On a day where the US men's national team broke out with a six-goal performance, it was a pair of somewhat under-the-radar 20-year-old forwards that combined to do much of the damage.

In the first half, it was Nicholas Gioacchini, who drew his first career senior team start in Monday's friendly against Panama and wasted little time making his presence felt with a first-half brace that set the Yanks out to a 3-1 lead. In the second half, it was Sebastian Soto putting the game away for the US with a pair of headed finishes just minutes after taking the field for his senior team debut.

Coming off a 0-0 draw against Wales that saw the attack struggle to get going for much of the night with Sebastian Lletget starting as a false 9, whether one of those young forwards could step up against Panama became one of the biggest topics of discussion leading up to Monday's match. Speaking with reporters afterward, head coach Gregg Berhalter stressed the importance of seeing both strikers do exactly that.

"It was really important, it was for both of them," Berhalter said. "I'm really happy for both of them. Sebastian, I mean, what a dream start. He played how many minutes and got two goals, that's fantastic. He showed quality as well. For me it was a good performance by him and Nicolas.

"But it's important, when we talked about last week about potentially the depth chart at the striker or forward position being limited, any chance you get you need to take it and these guys did a good job tonight."

Highlights: USMNT 6, Panama 2

On Monday, both players showed the type of ability that has led Berhalter to speak highly of their talent level and give them the opportunity at camp. Gioacchini showed his impressive physical attributes, particularly on his second goal when he put his whole body into a close-range header set up by teammate Matt Miazga. Soto also demonstrated his aerial prowess on his pair of finishes that saw him out-compete his defenders in the box to finish off two different crosses from fellow Real Salt Lake product Richie Ledezma.

Even with the performance of the strikers, though, perhaps the most intriguing performance from Monday's match was from 17-year-old midfielder Yunus Musah, who stood out again with a dynamic shift in the midfield trio with Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie.

Musah has impressed so much in these two friendly performances that his decision as to whether he'll represent the United States, England or one of the other two countries he's eligible for (Italy and Ghana) at the senior level is now one of the biggest storylines coming out of camp.

"I was really happy with Yunus' performance, really happy with him in camp," Berhalter said. "The guys really took to him well. All I've ever said about players in this category is that all we want to do is create an environment for them, that they want to be in, that they trust is a good environment for their development. It seemed like that was the case for Yunus, it seemed like he sees us as a pathway to continue to develop and play with a good young group. But in the end, it's going to be him and his family that decide. We're here for him to answer any questions but it's going to be him that decides."

More broadly, Berhalter said he was pleased to see how his team managed the intensity of a match that was within one goal until the US managed to pull away with three strikes in the final eight minutes.

Concacaf opponents always come with their own sets of obstacles, and Berhalter said an experience like this could prove crucial down the line as the US read themselves for World Cup Qualifying.

"I just think it was important for us to be involved in a game like this," Berhalter said. "Especially for some of the younger guys to play against a Concacaf opponent, to see the intensity that they play at, it was a very difficult game. Very physical game, more physical than the Wales game. We needed that, guys needed it. We had some guys calling for fouls and stuff -- these aren't going to be fouls. You've got to play on. So, it was a great experience. The first half I thought we played really, really well.

"It was a slow start but it was really good all around, excellent first half, and then the second half as they ramped up the pressure and we lacked a little movement and it became more difficult, but that was the period I was most interested in. I was really interested in seeing, were we going to buckle, or can we hang in there. And not only did we hang in there, we pulled away at the end scoring a number of goals. So I was pleased with the performance."