It was a slow start on Monday in Orlando, but a second-half goal from Ricardo Pepi was enough to push the United States to a 1-0 victory over El Salvador. The team struggled to work their way through El Salvador's defense in the first half, but when Pepi came on the pitch, it only took two minutes for him to make a difference. Scoring three goals in these two Concacaf Nations League matches, Pepi has shown his improvement since missing the World Cup and this goal took a good run and chip at the end.
At the other end, the El Salvador attack couldn't get past Miles Robinson in defense. The Atlanta United defender made his first appearance since tearing his Achilles tendon last May, and he showed what the team has been missing in his absence, making strong challenges all night to keep El Salvador at bay.
This window has been a big one for players who missed the World Cup. Pepi now has 13 goals and three assists for club and country since moving to Groningen in the Netherlands. With his confidence back, Pepi is showing why he shouldn't be left off of another big tournament roster in the future.
Robinson is also back to top form and will be out of contract from Atlanta United at the end of the season. Able to sign a pre-contract agreement with clubs abroad in the summer, Robinson will soon test himself at a higher level, something that he deserves following his strong performances with the national team. Robinson is making sure that he will lock down a spot in the lineup despite the missed time due to injury.
"We're really really pleased. Pleased he's back. Pleased with his performance," Anthony Hudson said about Robinson's performance after the match. "At times, we saw the old Miles where he's so dominant in 1-vs.-1 situations and he reads plays well, steps in at the right time and he quietly goes about being dominant."
Listen below and follow In Soccer We Trust: A CBS Sports Soccer Podcast where your three favorite former USMNT players cover everything you could possibly want to know about the beautiful game in the United States.
While this wasn't an emphatic win over El Salvador like the 7-1 victory over Grenada, the United States also didn't allow El Salvador much joy on the ball either. At worst, it was a match that may have ended in a draw if Pepi's goal didn't go in, but the team only allowed four shots, none of which were on target, showing that they were dominant in a different way.
El Salvador head coach and former U.S. international Hugo Perez said that his side ran out of gas at the end of the match and that's where the USMNT's depth makes a difference in Concacaf matches. Being able to introduce Pepi, Luca De La Torre, Taylor Booth, and Johnny Cardoso from the bench is quite a show of quality even with Tyler Adams and Tim Weah missing these matches. It's something that El Salvador couldn't match as the team got the win in Orlando but as they get deeper in the competition and play in the Copa America, there is still plenty of room for improvement.