USMNT looks like USMNT of old in 6-0 World Cup qualifying rout of Honduras

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Bradley and the U.S. rolled to victory. (AP Photo)
Bradley and the U.S. rolled to victory. (AP Photo)

SAN JOSE, Calif. – The re-hiring of Bruce Arena as United States men’s national team head coach was always going to bring back nostalgia. In his first tenure as USA manager, Arena guided the Americans to a surprising quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup but also left the job in less glamorous circumstances after a disappointing Germany 2006 that saw the U.S. go winless in the group stage.

Since his appointment in November to succeed the ousted Jurgen Klinsmann, Arena answered endless questions about those days, more about the good than the bad, and what he had learned since. Other than gray hair, he was basically the same sarcastic coach but with three more MLS Cups on his resume.

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U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati gave Arena the gig, though, because he sought normalcy in his senior men’s team program after its first-ever 0-2 start to the final round of World Cup qualifying. It took just one game for Arena to restore order.

In a blast from the past, the Americans ran a CONCACAF opponent ragged on home soil. They dictated play right from the opening whistle and grabbed the lead in a Hollywood-like script with local boy Sebastian Lletget (in his first-ever World Cup qualifier, no less) basking in the spotlight with a fifth-minute tap-in. They added five more goals – including a hat trick by Clint Dempsey – to cruise to an emphatic 6-0 victory at rainy Avaya Stadium and breathe life into the U.S.’s qualifying campaign for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

With the lop-sided win, the USA vaults from last place to fourth in the standings of CONCACAF’s six-team final round of qualifying, turning around a tie-breaking goal differential from minus-five to plus-one.

The stated goal of four points from this round of qualifiers is now attainable. All the rejuvenated Americans need is a draw at Panama on Tuesday. But after Friday’s display, Arena will have them feeling confident and greedy for more goals and three additional points.

“This team is really strong mentally,” Christian Pulisic said. “To come back from two losses in November with such a strong performance is really impressive. It shows good heart from the team.”

Arena, never one to shy away from rolling with youth, gave a number of younger players a massive opportunity to shine in his starting lineup. He positioned Pulisic right behind the forward tandem of Jozy Altidore and Dempsey at the top a diamond midfield with Darlington Nagbe and Sebastian Lletget out wide.

Right away, the injection of youth was noticeable in the energetic play of the USA.

“Clearly, we were going to be aggressive, and we were going to be as aggressive as we could be,” Arena said. “What that means, you never know. It depends on the game. But our attitude was that we were going to press and get after them as best we can. Clearly, a goal in the opening minutes of the game is big.”

Lletget made his first World Cup qualifier a match to remember when he pounced on a rebound to tap home at the back post for a 1-0 lead as Avaya erupted to celebrate the hometown boy coming good.

The rout was on when the game reached the 27th minute. Michael Bradley kept galloping into open space and found himself at the top of the box. He unleashed a left-footed strike that beat goalkeeper Donis Escober at the far post for a 2-0 lead.

Five minutes later, Dempsey scored his first of the night, and in impressive fashion. Playing his first national team game since last summer’s Copa America Centenario due to an irregular heartbeat, the 34-year-old ran onto a ball over the top from Pulisic, chested it down, and powered his way past two Honduran defenders to smash his sliding strike home for a 3-0 halftime lead.

The Americans needed just 15 seconds into the second half to make it 4-0. Pulisic deservedly got on the scoresheet.

Then Pulisic picked up his second assist – and third goal-scoring setup overall – with a picture-perfect through ball ahead to Dempsey, who rounded the keeper for a 5-0 lead in the 49th minute.

Dempsey recorded his hat trick in style with a 54th-minute free kick.

“I wasn’t even going to take the free kick to be honest about with you at the beginning,” Dempsey said. “And Jozy was like ‘Take it.’ I said, ‘You know what, what do I got to lose?’ So I owe that goal to Jozy.”

Arena was not surprised at all that the attacking trio of Altidore, Dempsey and Pulisic clicked right from the get-go.

“Clint and Jozy know each other pretty well,” Arena said. “Christian is just a natural. The game is easy for him. He’s got exceptional skill and vision – he’s pretty smooth. So that’s a nice combination.”

Joe Lago is the editor of FC Yahoo. Follow him on Twitter @joelago.

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