Gio Reyna and Christian Pulisic scored a goal in each half to lift the US men’s national team to a 2-1 win over Northern Ireland in an international friendly at Windsor Park in Belfast Sunday.
Reyna opened the scoring on the half-hour mark with his second International goal. The 18-year-old Borussia Dortmund winger received a pass from Tim Ream, turned to take on a defender and put a shot that deflected off sliding defender Ciaron Brown.
Northern Ireland nearly leveled eight minutes later off a USMNT turnover, but Zack Steffen did well to dive to his right to parry away a low shot from Shayne Lavery.
Kyle Lafferty also had a golden chance for the hosts in the 12th minute, but his free kick from just outside the 18-yard box deflected off the USMNT wall.
Pulisic doubled the lead from the penalty spot in the 59th minute after being tripped by Danny Ballard in the box. The Chelsea midfielder calmly finished his 15th international goal.
Pulisic played provider in the 78th minute, sending Daryl Dike through. But the Orlando City SC forward, on loan with Barnsley, was denied by Northern Ireland goalkeeper Conor Hazard, who again got the better of the powerful striker moments later.
Niall McGinn pulled the hosts back with a thunderous strike two minutes from full time and Northern Ireland had a chance to level on a set piece deep in stoppage time, but the ball bounced out harmlessly seconds before the final whistle.
Is there a world in which “RFM” came of age as a footballer in the United States instead, and perhaps would’ve chosen to represent the Stars and Stripes? That’s a fascinating hypothetical to ponder, albeit one the current USMNT themselves have little time to entertain.
“No matter who plays, we have young center backs and we're going to have to make it difficult for him,” said Berhalter of Funes Mori. “Excellent player, history of scoring, typical No. 9 type of player. And for us, it's how do we make it as difficult as possible for him. It's going to be a good test, a difficult test. But I can guarantee our guys will be up for the challenge.”
Unless the USMNT spring a surprise like a return to a three-player backline, it’s expected that the green center-back duo of Miles Robinson and James Sands and Matt Turner, a goalkeeper early in his own international career, will be tasked with blunting Mexico’s chief attacking threat with the region’s top trophy on the line. And they’ve earned the chance, posting the event’s best defensive record to date.
“I won't get too far into the plan for stopping him, however, watching him in this tournament and watching him over the last few seasons, the guy is just a killer when he's inside the box,” said Turner on Saturday. “He finds space, he's got a great touch and he can finish right foot, left foot and with his head. So we understand that he’s a very dangerous player and we're looking forward to a great match.”
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Back wearing the captain's armband, Pulisic converted his PK and set up Dike with a sublime ball that nearly resulted in a third goal.
- NIR: Wednesday, March 31 vs. Bulgaria, FIFA World Cup Qualifier (2:45 pm ET)
- US: Sunday, May 30 at Switzerland (TBD | TBD)