Ricardo Pepi's goal was the difference as the US men’s national team booked a Concacaf Nations League semifinals berth following their 1-0 win over El Salvador Monday evening at Orlando City SC’s Exploria Stadium. Both countries had already secured a 2023 Gold Cup place via a guaranteed finish in the top two of Nations League A's Group D.
The breakthrough came in the 62nd minute as Pepi, fresh off the substitute’s bench, ran onto Weston McKennie's through ball into the box and chipped home the lone goal of the match.
It was the former FC Dallas standout’s sixth international goal, one that appeared to be coming as the USMNT ratcheted up the intensity after halftime. Gio Reyna nearly scored the first goal a minute into the second half, but put his attempt off the post.
Pepi nearly added a second goal five minutes from full time, but his shot from the edge of the six-yard box was saved by El Salvador goalkeeper Mario González.
Matt Turner was forced into a diving save in the second minute, getting a touch on Jairo Henríquez’s shot, but didn’t have to do much more heavy lifting after that against an El Salvador squad needing a win to advance.
The best first-half scoring chance for the hosts came in the third minute of stoppage time when Christian Pulisic picked out McKennie on a free kick, but his open header was off the mark.
The USMNT join Mexico as the first teams to book their spot in the four-team Nations League semifinals in June. The US defeated El Tri in the inaugural Nations League final, winning 3-2 in extra time in June 2021.
- 62' - USA - Ricardo Pepi | WATCH
- THE BIG PICTURE: The USMNT got the job done, booking safe passage into the Nations League semifinals in June, and they did so by having a much better second half than first. Sidebar to that, of course, is Ricardo Pepi, who was left off the World Cup squad, scoring the lone goal and coming close a couple of times to a second.
- MOMENT OF THE MATCH: It’s all about the breakthrough, which came a little more than two minutes after Pepi stepped on as a second-half substitute.
- MAN OF THE MATCH: McKennie pulled the strings for the USMNT in midfield during a solid outing. He set up Pepi’s winner with a well-weighted ball and nearly scored in first-half stoppage time, but couldn’t put his open header on frame.
- USA: Wednesday, April 19 vs. Mexico | 10 pm ET (TBS, Telemundo, Universo, HBO Max, Peacock) | Allstate Continental Clásico
- SLV: To be announced