Sebastian Lletget enjoyed a dream return to Avaya Stadium, scoring a goal and providing an assist to give the U.S. Men’s National Team a 2-0 win over Costa Rica in the second of two international friendly matches ahead of the MLS season.
Lletget scored the game winning goal on a header in the 80th minute and with two minutes from time, Paul Arriola closed out a terrific performance with a goal of his own, thanks to a great through ball from Lletget. It was the first time Lletget had been back in this stadium since suffering a devastating Lisfranc foot injury in March 2017 that kept him out for 11 months. He returned to the USMNT last fall and made a big impression off the bench for new coach Gregg Berhalter on Saturday afternoon.
[READ: USMNT to face Ecuador in March]
“We talked at halftime about how it was a very difficult game, and I think in the second half, the guys rose to the challenge,” Berhalter told Fox Sports after the match. “Much more aggressive (sic), much more life, much more bravery and overall, I think it was a good lesson that we have to go for it, and the guys did a great job.”
6 – Sebastian Lletget is now the sixth #USMNT player with a goal and an assist off the bench in the last five years, and the first since Clint Dempsey in July 2017 against Costa Rica. Déjà-vú. #USAvCRC
— OptaJack⚽️ (@OptaJack) February 2, 2019
After a passive first half, in which the USMNT turned the ball over frequently and neither team really found their passing rhythm, the U.S. came flying out of the game to start the second stanza. Right winger Corey Baird and left back Nick Lima each had decent crosses into the middle in the first few minutes, before midfielder Christian Roldan had a terrific chance in the box that he turned wide.
During this time, holding midfielder Wil Trapp was consistently finding Arriola in space down the left wing, a position where Arriola excelled despite being a natural right-footed player. In the 54th minute, Lima rattled a shot off the post in his home stadium, and Roldan clattered the same bar with a strike in the 68th minute.
The U.S. was by far the more aggressive side but it seemed as though the game was heading for a draw until the 70th minute, when Jonathan Lewis was introduced. The young New York City FC winger swapped spots with Arriola and was a constant threat down the left side, eventually leading to the game-winning goal.
Trapp once again played a perfect long-ball into space for the speedy Lewis to run on to. Lewis then took on his defender and looped a cross towards the far post. Lletget rose highest and angled home a header past goalkeeper Estaban Alvarado to finally break the deadlock.
Lewis nearly set up the USMNT again with some nifty dribbling and speed down the left, but his cross was cleared away. Finally, in the 88th minute, Arriola put the cherry on top of the win with a calm flick over Alvarado off a Lletget through ball. Arriola crashed into Alvarado and the ground after his chip but he seemed fine and was ready to celebrate with his teammates as the ball rolled into the net.
Up next for the U.S. is a friendly match in Orlando, Fla on March 21 against Ecuador. For the first time, the next window will give Berhalter the opportunity to call in a full strength side, and it will be interesting to see how he teaches his ideas and style of play to the European and Liga MX-based players in a much shorter time span, as well as playing against opponents with full squads of their own.
After a long January USMNT camp and a pair of wins, it feels that there’s a bit of positive momentum again behind the national team. Yes, both wins were against teams without their best players available, but the USMNT players quickly adapted to Berhalter’s style of play, and the dynamism shown in the second half, “going for it” as Berhalter said, was missing from a lot of games during the later stages of World Cup qualifying in 2017, especially on the road.