Pulisic enjoys international coming-out party in U.S. thrashing of Honduras
Bruce Arena's competitive return to the U.S. national team proved to be a night of triumph for the coach and for a host of American players as the quest for the 2018 World Cup rocketed into gear on the back of a dominating 6-0 qualifying victory over Honduras.
The attacking trio of Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Christian Pulisic was simply irresistible for most of the night. From the outset, the group found an understanding between one another that paid off in goals. Pulisic's night in particular will rightly get a host of headlines. The 18-year-old, given a central creative role despite his age, was directly involved in four of the six American goals. Dempsey deserves heaps of praise for the hat trick -- on a night when many thought him unready to step back into the international fray.
It seems petty to pick out too many negatives in a 6-0 thrashing, so we'll keep it limited to a note about a sometimes discombobulated back line and strange tendency toward a vacant midfield that played no role in the overwhelming American victory. Injuries also bear mentioning, with Sebastian Lletget, Geoff Cameron and John Brooks all forced off early.
Manager rating out of 10
9 -- The Hondurans certainly made it easy, but there's no assessment to be made of Arena's decisions other than that every one was perfect. Questions about the strength of the midfield and the lack of defensive support on the wings (where Honduras is most dangerous) proved unfounded. Deploying Pulisic in a free role under Altidore and Dempsey proved inspired. Every player was set out in a position they understand and were comfortable with, though the formation can best be described as "fluid." Arena's substitutions were all dictated by injuries.
Player ratings (1-10; 10=best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Tim Howard, 8 -- Made a handful of saves, none of them requiring anything spectacular.
DF Geoff Cameron, 7 -- Effective in a right-back position before coming off with the game already decided. Far from perfect but more than good enough.
DF Omar Gonzalez, 7 -- Questionable when on the ball, and made on egregious error that led to Honduras's best chance of the night. Solid overall, though.
DF John Brooks, 7 -- Provided a few key interventions but also allowed himself to be turned more than once. Read the game reasonably well.
DF Jorge Villafana, 7 -- The nature of the American approach left him on an island more than once. The scoreline made that fact irrelevant, and his night was solid otherwise.
MF Michael Bradley, 7 -- Sat deep, played his position. Made a few characteristic turnovers and was too slow on occasion. Connected passes with acres of space in front of him to good effect.
MF Sebastian Lletget, NR -- No rating for the LA Galaxy midfielder, who scored the opening goal for the United States, due to an early injury.
MF Christian Pulisic, 9.5 -- A coming-out party of epic proportions, reinforcing the obvious fact that he's the U.S.'s best attacking player at the age of 18. Revelatory vision.
MF Darlington Nagbe, 8 -- Quiet excellence maintaining possession up the left flank. Able to push high and contribute to the overloads the Americans used on the left side.
FW Clint Dempsey, 9 -- A near-perfect return for the U.S. legend. The hat trick speaks for itself, but he was involved and dangerous all night long.
FW Jozy Altidore, 8.5 -- No goals, but that's just about the only negative thing that can be said about his performance. Provided perfect passes to set up more than one of the goals.
MF Alejandro Bedoya, 7 -- Entered the game cold and stabilized the right side of midfielder immediately. Strong passing all night and did his usual work tracking back.
DF Graham Zusi, 6.5 -- Competent coming on for Cameron, without any requirement to get forward. Made an important intervention late in the match.
DF Tim Ream, 6.5 -- Forced on for Brooks when he likely didn't expect to play. Did not stand out in any particularly negative way through the final 20 minutes.
Jason Davis covers Major League Soccer and the United States national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @davisjsn.