WASHINGTON, D.C. — It took the United States men’s national team approximately 31 seconds to eliminate any doubt about its abilities to handle Cuba in the inaugural Concacaf Nations League.
Taking advantage of a lesser opponent, the USMNT scored four goals in the first 15 minutes and recorded three program records.
“If I could have written the game up, it would have been exactly like this,” coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Score early, score many goals early and then cruise. I think we saved ourselves. We will be fit and ready to go [against Canada].”
Midfielder Weston McKennie opened scoring by exploiting the back post of Cuba twice assisted by midfielder Jordan Morris. Both goals came from short-range crosses inside the penalty box and a quick touch from McKennie.
“The thing about Weston is, for a midfielder, he arrives very well in the penalty box. You don’t see players do it that consistently from the midfield,” Berhalter said. “When you have a midfielder that can score goals and arrive in the penalty box like that, it gives you another dimension. It makes you that much better.”
McKennie returned the favor to Morris in the ninth minute with a pivot and a pass to his teammate. Morris put the ball past Cuba goalkeeper Nelson Johnston.
“Probably a Fortnite connection, honestly,” Mckennie said of the seemingly magnetic connection with Morris. “We play Fortnite on our downtime a lot. I think we understand each other well.”
The next goal completed a career first hat trick for McKennie, who also set the USMNT record for fastest hat trick from kickoff.
Before the end of the first half, Morris also tied a USMNT record with three assists in a game when he sent a backward pass to 19-year-old strike Josh Sargent, who earned the start over Gyasi Zardes.
Exploiting space on the wing was a key for Morris against Cuba. He moved from a more central role in the attack to wing earlier this year and has spent a season perfecting the craft with Major League Soccer’s Seattle Sounders. Against Cuba, Morris lined up in front with Christian Pulisic on the opposite side and Sargent in the middle.
The new combination of attackers worked well for the US against 178th-ranked Cuba. Each attacking piece brings something different; Sargent with his hold-up play, Morris with his movement behind the defense and Pulisic with the ball at his feet.
“It is a completely different skill set from all three attackers, which gives us options,” Berhalter said. “We will continue to learn the players, and as we get players available and as we work with the players, their strengths will come out.”
Sargent played a full 90 minutes, but had an injury scare when he jumped in the air for a free kick setup and landed awkwardly, grabbing his right foot. After a few minutes with the trainer, he re-entered the game.
“I just rolled it a little bit, so these next couple days I will be taking care of it as best as I can,” Sargent said. “I will be ready.”
The U.S. ended the half with six goals, which is a record in the modern era of the team, including a hard-hit shot from Morris that deflected off Cuba defender Darío Ramos’s face.
In the second half, Pulisic added the final nail to Cuba with a penalty kick goal straight down the middle.
The USMNT next travels north to Toronto, where Canada waits for the next match Tuesday at BMO Field.
“These are the games that are going to help our team grow,” Berhalter said. “It is going to be a particularly difficult environment to play in against a motivated opponent. This will be our first game together playing away from home, so everything lines up for us to test ourselves against Canada.”