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Pepi scores again as USMNT beats El Salvador to win Nations League group

Ricardo Pepi's cheeky chip helped USMNT shutout El Salvador in its last group play matchup of the CONCACAF Nations League.

The USMNT got another goal from Ricardo Pepi to secure a 1-0 victory over El Salvador in Orlando on Monday and win Group D of the CONCACAF Nations League, booking their place in this summer’s finals.

[ MORE: USMNT player ratings vs Grenada | Recap/highlights ]

Mexico and the USMNT are the first two (of four) sides through to the final round, with Panama and Canada currently in pole position to finish atop their respective groups when they conclude play on Tuesday.

It was a frustratingly slow start by the USMNT on Monday, as El Salvador refused to let the Americas get comfortable or play their game. Long balls over the top of the USMNT defense created a few nervy moments early on, but interim head coach Anthony Hudson’s side looked a completely different side after halftime.

The USMNT’s first real scoring chance came in the 46th minute, when Gio Reyna cut in from the left wing, worked his way past two defenders and fired a shot low and hard toward the near post. The ball smashed the front of the post and the rebound ricocheted back into play, just out of Alejandro Zendejas’ reach atop the six-yard box.

[ MORE: Folarin Balogun to USMNT? “It’s something that will come to me” ]

Zendejas went close to opening the scoring just two minutes later, as he audaciously — but necessarily — lobbed the ball over a frazzled Mario Gonzalez in goal, only to pull it just wide of the far post.

The Yanks kept the pressure up as the second half wore on, and eventually got their reward in the 62nd minute. A minute after Pepi came into the game, Weston McKennie found the 20-year-old forward making a dangerous run in behind the Salvadoran defense, but Gonzalez saw it early as well and came out to close down his angles as Pepi jostled with the last defender. Pepi went for the cheeky chip over the ‘keeper, to go with the two goals he scored against Grenada on Friday.

Welcome back, Miles Robinson

When Miles Robinson ruptured his achilles in May of last year, the USMNT lost its most consistent defensive performer throughout much of World Cup qualifying, leaving Gregg Berhalter with only two reasonably tested options at center back: Tim Ream and Walker Zimmerman.

Ream was something of a revelation at 35 years old in Qatar and Zimmerman held his own in his three starts, but the damage was done with the USMNT’s highest-ceiling center back suddenly out of the picture. But Robinson returned to the USMNT fold on Monday, after making four appearances to start the MLS season, and the 26-year-old, who will be out of contract at the end of the year, was arguably the best player on the field.

Having suffered a major injury just months before his first trip to a World Cup, it’s likely that Robinson will look to take every opportunity ahead of him and test himself overseas, and he shouldn’t be short on options either. Short term, he’ll continue to partner Ream; long term, the hope is that Robinson and Chris Richards, who has struggled to stay healthy for much of the last two years, will form a formidable partnership ahead of the 2026 World Cup.

What’s next?

When the USMNT reconvenes for its next camp next month, the Yanks will face rivals Mexico in the Continental Clasico in Glendale, Ariz, on April 19.

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How to watch USMNT vs El Salvador live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 7:30pm ETStadium: Exploria Stadium - Orlando, FloridaTV in English: TNT
TV/streaming en Español: Universo/Peacock

[ LIVE: CONCACAF Nations League scores - USMNT vs El Salvador ]

USMNT squad

Goalkeepers (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town), Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough), Matt Turner (Arsenal)

Defenders (8): Sergino Dest (AC Milan), Mark McKenzie (Genk), Tim Ream (Fulham), Bryan Reynolds (Westerlo), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach), Auston Trusty (Birmingham City)

Midfielders (7): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Weston McKennie (Leeds United), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Alan Sonora (Juarez), Djordje Mihailovic (AZ Alkmaar)

Forwards (6): Taylor Booth (Utrecht), Daryl Dike (West Bromwich Albion), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Alejandro Zendejas (Club America)

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