Gregg Berhalter, Ricardo Pepi react to teen’s latest USMNT heroics

Gregg Berhalter
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Gregg Berhalter was thrilled with his young, shorthanded United States men’s national team’s performance in a 2-0 win over Jamaica on Thursday in a World Cup qualifier, but he’s going to make sure that youth doesn’t slip into any sort of comfort zone with eight points through four matches.

“When you look at this game, and it’s only one game of a three-game window, it was excellent intensity,” Berhalter said. “The trap is going to be us thinking we’re great and us thinking we’ve qualified for the World Cup. And if we do that we’ll get our asses kicked in Panama on Sunday.”

They didn’t look like a team that’s ready to relent any time soon, even against a desperate Jamaican side still looking for a World Cup qualifying win.

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And Pepi stayed ready for his chance after a quiet first half, scoring his brace in a performance that Berhalter shaking his head.

“We’re all excited,” Berhalter said of Pepi’s emergence. “We’re sitting there and we’re on the train, observing everything that’s happening. An 18-year-old sees an opportunity and takes advantage of it. He has an instinct to score.”

Within a few months, Pepi has gone from uncapped dual national committing to the USMNT to boasting three goals and two game-changing performances in two caps.

Pepi said he’s just staying in the moment and not getting too busy.

“It’s a moment of being able to stay calm and stay humble,” Pepi said. “I talk to my family about a lot of things going on and they told me to stay humble. … I work to be able to be on the squad. To represent my country, I made a big decision and said I was going to do my best.”

Another player in focus was Weston McKennie, who was sent back to Italy during the last round of qualifiers for breaking a team rule.

He started and put in a solid shift. Berhalter was happy with the Juventus midfielder.

“It’s not easy to come back and he knew eyes were on him and the word I’d use is professional,” Berhalter said. “I thought he had an excellent performance.”