The United States scored early and late as Gregg Berhalter made his return to the sidelines to guide his team to a shutout win over Uzbekistan at CITYPark in St. Louis, Missouri, on Saturday to begin the cycle for the 2026 World Cup.
After a summer in which the team retained their Concacaf Nations League title and fell short in their quest to repeat as Gold Cup champions, now was the time to get their preparations going for the big tournament.
Berhalter, who was reappointed as U.S. coach in June, went to his trusted 4-3-3 formation, with Luca de la Torre taking up central midfield duties in the place of the injured Tyler Adams. Foalrin Balogun got the nod to play in the center-forward position ahead of Ricardo Pepi.
The Americans got on the scoreboard just four minutes into the contest when Weston McKennie received the ball in the 18-yard box from Christian Pulisic. The Juventus man did well to get it under control and keep it away from four Uzbek defenders before he passed it to Tim Weah who struck it from the far right side of the box and into the goal.
Balogun had an excellent chance to double their lead 10 minutes later when Sergino Dest whipped the ball into the area from the right side. McKennie rose up to head it into the path of the newly-signed Monaco player, but he was unlucky as the ball came crashing off the post.
With the hosts missing chances, this only boosted the confidence of Uzbekistan as the game progressed. They were organized and it showed as the U.S. turned over the ball on several occasions, giving their opponents ample chances to level the score. If not for the saves by Matt Turner, this game could have been a different story.
Entering the second half, the Uzbeks did not let up on their pursuit to score. They had a couple of good chances in the first seven or so minutes, but the score remained 1-0 to the Americans.
The hosts regained a bit of composure in the latter stages of the game to grab two goals to put some distance between them and the visitors.
Pepi scored the team’s second in the 91st minute when Brenden Aaronson teed up the PSV man for a strike at the top of the area that the Uzbek goalkeeper could not stop from going into the goal.
The final goal would come from the penalty spot as Malik Tillman was tripped up in the box, leaving the referee no choice but to award the spot-kick. Christian Pulisic would step up and convert it to seal the win for the red, white, and blue.
An ugly win for the USMNT in the end. Now, they’ll have to try and make some improvements before they take the field on Tuesday in St. Paul, Minnesota, against Oman.
Luca de la Torre left the game with a broken nose following a clash of heads. This gave Tanner Tessman the chance to enter the game in the 35th minute to earn his second senior cap.
Kristoffer Lund also earned his first senior cap since completing the one-time switch with FIFA as he came on in the second half.