Pepi shines, substitutes impress vs. Honduras

Turning a match around from a 1-0 halftime deficit to a 4-1 romp generally requires a turnaround driven by substitutions, and new blood entering to replace struggling starters.

That was the case on Wednesday, as Gregg Berhalter’s substitutions helped transform the U.S. men’s national team from a lifeless and aimless bunch in the first half, to a determined and resilient group in the second half.

The injection of some experienced and effective substitutes not only gave the team life, it helped provide the support for Ricardo Pepi to put together one of the most impressive debuts in USMNT history. The 18-year-old FC Dallas striker came into the September friendlies in outstanding form in MLS, and that form carried over into a second half that saw him play a part in all four USMNT goals.

When the dust settled, there were several players who could walk away from San Pedro Sula knowing their national team stock had been given a boost, while some others endured rough nights that could put their future starting opportunities in jeopardy.

With all that in mind, here are the player ratings for the USMNT’s 4-1 win vs. Honduras:

Matt Turner  (7)

Another stellar outing for Turner, who made two saves, including a crucial diving save with the score 1-1 that helped serve as the prelude to the USMNT’s second-half goal barrage.

Tyler Adams (7)

Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos

Though his first half at right wingback was disappointing, Adams never stopped battling, and his shift into his traditional central midfield role was a key factor in the team’s turnaround. That he was able to deliver a strong 90 minutes after having already started the team’s two previous matches was a testament to his commitment to the team and the qualities that make him a strong candidate to be the team’s captain.

Miles Robinson (7)

The Atlanta United defender made it three straight strong starts in World Cup qualifying, which when coupled with his incredible Gold Cup, has Robinson looking like the most reliable central defender in the USMNT pool.

John Brooks (4)

Whether it was him struggling with the middle centerback role in Berhalter’s 5-4-1, him not feeling comfortable playing in the heat and bumpy pitch at San Pedro Sula, or a lack of familiarity with his teammates and the system, Brooks just looked completely out of sorts and nothing like the dominant force that has starred for the USMNT in the past, and with Wolfsburg. He remains an important figure for Berhalter’s setup, but his status as an unquestioned starter took a hit.

Mark McKenzie (6.5)

Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos

Somewhat surprising starter selection given his lack of recent playin time for Genk, but McKenzie was steady and played with confidence, which shouldn’t have been a surprise given the fact he had started and played well against Honduras in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals.

George Bello (4)

You can understand why Berhalter might trust the young Bello with this assignment given how well he handled starting in the Gold Cup final, but the teenager wasn’t up to the task this time around, and fell asleep on the Honduras goal, precipitating his halftime departure.

Kellyn Acosta (6)

After a less than stellar first half, Acosta stepped it up in the second half, helped by the tactical shift to the 4-3-3 and insertion of effective substitutions. He didn’t put up his usual impressive defensive numbers, but still played a meaningful part in the second-half surge.

James Sands (4)

Berhalter called Sands’ performance ‘interesting’, but most observers would have just called it terrible. The NYCFC defender/midfielder, who looked so impressive at the Gold Cup, struggled badly in the central midfield role in the 5-4-1, and didn’t fare much better in the second half. He did continue to fight, and scrap even as he seemed to struggle to keep up with the game, but it wasn’t an accident that the USMNT takeover started after he left the match.

Josh Sargent (5)

Sargent still struggled with his touches and combination play, and finished his 45-minute shift with zero shots and just eight successful passes. After a lackluster showing against El Salvador, Sargent will need to earn a starting role at Norwich City to garner the momentum he’ll need to regain the starting USMNT striker role he has likely lost for the moment to Ricardo Pepi.

Ricardo Pepi (9)

Even in the first half, when things weren’t going well for the team, you could see Pepi’s energy and desire to work, and once the second-half changes were made, they helped fully utilize Pepi and help him take over the game. People’s movement, timing and finishing were impressive to see, and it will be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup if he can continue to ride his hot form for FC Dallas heading into the October window.

Christian Pulisic (6.5)

Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos

Another gutsy, though frustrating night for Pulisic, who tried hard to push the attack forward, but struggled to find the right combinations and shake free from a Honduran defense that had clearly targeted him as the one to stop. Suggestions that his exit helped the USMNT attack are misguided, because the reality is he never got a chance to play with the setup that included Yedlin at right back and Adams in central midfield, which was the shift that really turned the tide.

Antonee Robinson (8)

Energetic and decisive, Robinson was just what the USMNT needed on the left flank, and really helped shut down his side of the field, while posing a threat in attack. His goal helped settle American nerves, and he played an impressive 45 minutes that should help him lock down the starting left back spot going forward.

Sebastian Lletget (8)

His poise, vision and ability to find the soft spots in the Honduran defense helped give the USMNT attack something it lacked in the first half, and he finished with a goal while helping set up another of the goals.

Brenden Aaronson (7.5)

Photo by Brad Smith/ISI Photos

Came on and helped give some needed energy to the front line, with his pressing, and his relentless movement helping overwhelm a tiring Honduran defense.

Cristian Roldan (6.5)

Didn’t show up on the scoresheet, but his effort played a part in the sequences leading to two goals, and his four duels won and three aerials won contributed to the USMNT takeover in the final 30 minutes.

DeAndre Yedlin (7)

Came on and set up Pepi’s goal just two minutes after entering the match with a pinpoint cross, Yedlin closed the match out with a solid finish that helped restore some faith in his ability after his struggles against Canada.

What did you think of the USMNT individual performances? Who impressed you? Who disappointed you the most?

Share your thoughts below.