Weston McKennie and Walker Zimmerman had first-half goals to give the U.S. an early spark on a frigid night and a fresh Christian Pulisic scored after entering in the second half to lead the Americans over Honduras 3-0 Wednesday night in a World Cup qualifying match.
Goalkeeper Matt Turner didn’t have tp make a single save for the Americans, who emerged from the pandemic-prompted winter session in second place with three matches remaining.
The kickoff temperature was 3 degrees (minus-16 Celsius) with a minus-14 wind chill at a site picked by the U.S. Soccer Federation along with Columbus, Ohio, for optimal home-field advantage over opponents from tropical countries.
The Americans beat El Salvador 1-0 on Thursday, when it was 29 degrees in Ohio and lost 2-0 to host Canada on Sunday in Hamilton, Ontario, when it was 22. The weather in Minnesota was a another level of cold, the coldest in U.S. team history and violating USSF guidelines for safe outdoor play and ending with a 1-degree temperature.
“It was freezing out here. I’m looking forward to getting into the locker room,” Pulisic said.
Still, the match was a sellout — an announced crowd of 19,202 — with red-white-and-blue-clad fans clutching their complimentary hand warmers and however many layers they could find in their closets. Players wore skin-tight thermal tops and black gloves, but most of them had bare skin exposed on their knees as they jogged and jumped around on the grass at 3-year-old Allianz Field.
McKennie had on two sets of gloves, peeling off one pair as he came to the bench after being replaced in the 84th minute. The star midfielder scored on a header in the eighth minute, fittingly after joking on a video interview the day before that his big head ought to minimize any discomfort from a frozen ball in the February chill.
That was McKennie’s ninth international goal, his second in World Cup qualifying, and it would prove to be enough.
Canada leads North and Central America and the Caribbean with 22 points, followed by the U.S. (21), Mexico (18), Panama (17) and Costa Rica (16), with Canada at El Salvador later Wednesday and Mexico hosting Panama. The top three nations qualify for this year’s tournament in Qatar and fourth place advances to a playoff against the Oceania champion, likely New Zealand.
If Panama failed to win at Mexico later, the U.S. would be in position to clinch with a win over Panama at Orlando, Florida, on March 27 as long as Costa Rica doesn’t win its final three games. The Americans also have road games at Mexico on March 24 at Costa Rica on March 30, two places where the U.S. has never won a qualifier.
After scoring no goals off set pieces in the first 10 qualifiers, the U.S. scored three.
The second goal developed from a free kick by Kellyn Acosta, who started in the defensive midfield for the first time since the October loss at Panama, whizzed past the head of a leaping Jordan Morris, Zimmerman pivoted around defender Denil Maldonado in the 37th minute.
The ball glanced off Zimmerman’s left leg, and he kicked it in with his right from 5 yards for his third international goal. Zimmerman wore the captain’s armband for the night.
Pulisic scored about three minutes after entering. Acosta’s corner kick was headed by Ricardo Pepi to Zimmerman, and the ball bounced off a leg to the right foot of Pulisic. He scored from near the penalty spot with his second touch of the game — his 18th international goal.
“It’s my to come in and make a difference, and I’m glad I did,” Pulisic said
The Americans played without Tyler Adams and Chris Richards, both of whom were injured against Canada. The U.S. team is also still missing midfielder Gio Reyna, sidelined by a hamstring injury sustained in the opening qualifier at El Salvador on Sept. 2.
Notes: Costa Rica won 1-0 at Jamaica as Joel Campbell scored his 22nd international goal in the 62nd minute. The Reggae Boyz were eliminated.
Saturdays just got more interesting.