The FC Dallas striker, who bailed out the US with the decisive goal against Honduras in their previous World Cup qualifier, emerged with two more goals for his country, making him the youngest player to score in consecutive World Cup qualifiers for the USMNT, after he and his teammates were frustrated during the opening half despite dominating possession throughout.
It was a relatively electric first half for a period that only produced one shot on goal. Decidedly against the run of play, that shot came from Jamaica’s Jamal Lowe, which gave Matt Turner his sternest test of the first half.
The hosts did have their chances, though, starting 20 seconds into the match, when Paul Arriola got out on a breakaway, only to be clipped by Kemar Lawrence on a potential DOGSO shout while bearing down on goal. That led to a yellow card and a free kick, and the US weren't able to capitalize on the opportunity.
Some cagey play ensured, with a particularly sharp Tyler Adams felled by a Tyreek Magee elbow that drew blood but not the card that a number of fans felt it deserved. The US also managed a few chances, including a Weston McKennie 21st-minute shot from distance that went just wide of the post.
Then more controversy ensued as it looked like Brenden Aaronson won a penalty just past the half-hour mark when Damion Lowe took him down. But, as with the first-minute foul on Arriola, it resulted in a yellow card and a free-kick opportunity outside the box that again went to naught.
The mood and the complexion of the match changed dramatically less than three minutes after the restart. Sergino Dest sent in a cross that Pepi headed into the net, adding to the 18-year-old's growing goal total for the USMNT.
After leaving Andre Blake untested for most of the first half, Yunus Musah added to the pressure, if not the tally, with a 52nd-minute shot-cross hybrid that Blake had to get down to save – starting another sequence in which the US went on the front foot. Pepi could have tested Blake on his wide-open 56th-minute shot, but hit it right at Blake. Then Dest, after yet another foul at the end of the box, sent a wicked free kick that came close to striking the top corner.
The building momentum led to Pepi's second goal in the 62nd minute, with Aaronson getting his hustle on and playing a robust ball across the goalmouth, which Pepi brushed home.
From there, the US secured the match, nearly padding their goal differential thanks to efforts from subs Tim Weah and Gyasi Zardes.
- THE BIG PICTURE: The US needed a home win to set a positive tone for October's qualifiers, and did so in a stadium full of fans who stepped up the occasion – all with a Texas-born striker ultimately making the difference. This was a deserved victory in which superior talent came out on top, and it was a strong, character-building effort against an opponent that embodied Concacaf’s grueling qualifying schedule. Also, as stats guru Paul Carr showed, the US are developing into quite the second-half team in this Octagonal.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: This match was crying for a goal, especially after the first half's pent-up frustration, and Pepi delivered.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: Clearly, it’s the wunderkind from El Paso with two goals on the night. But Tyler Adams also deserves recognition for his grit and essential play.
- USA: Sunday, Oct. 10 at Panama | 6 pm ET (Paramount+, Universo)
- JAM: Sunday, Oct. 10 vs. Canada | 6 pm ET (Paramount+, OneSoccer)