Brenden Aaronson opened the scoring and provided one of the best viral highlights in the U.S. men’s soccer team’s 4-0 win over Costa Rica on Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
The victory ended a stretch of four games in 11 days that was designed to replicate the rigors of the upcoming World Cup qualifying campaign. After a 2-1 friendly loss at Switzerland on May 30, the Americans won the Concacaf Nations League in dramatic fashion with games on June 3 and 6: 1-0 over Honduras in the semifinals and 3-2 over Mexico in the final.
When qualifying starts in September, players will face a quick turnaround from club games to national team contests Sept. 2, 5, and 8. The first and third of those games will be on the road.
There will be a similar stretch on Oct. 7, 10, and 13, this time with two home games around one road game; and further three-game sprints in late January and late March. Out of five total World Cup qualifying FIFA windows, only the November one will have two games in it.
So it mattered not only that the U.S. got results this month, but that all of the team’s outfield players got to play. That was assured on Wednesday when Yunus Musah, the only one who hadn’t featured yet, started and played 75 minutes.
Only third-string goalkeeper David Ochoa, who happens to play his club soccer for Real Salt Lake, didn’t see the field.
Aaronson was one of the night’s stars. In addition to his goal, he provided the night’s most viral highlight with a dazzling crossover dribble along the end line just before halftime.
The Medford-born winger’s goal came in the eighth minute when he ran behind Daryl Dike and pounced on a loose ball. Dike got his turn to score his first national team goal in the 42nd. Right back Reggie Cannon made it 3-0 in the 52nd with a terrific run and strike, and Gio Reyna finished the scoring with a penalty kick in the 77th.
“Putting on the jersey, it’s always a dream come true,” Aaronson said. “I think we made a statement to the rest of Concacaf that we’re here and we’re winning games the way we are, and we’re here to stay for a while.”
On the back line, Mark McKenzie started for a fourth straight game and played the first half. It was a robust endorsement by U.S. manager Gregg Berhalter of McKenzie, who received racist abuse on Instagram after a giveaway early in the Nations League final that led to Mexico’s first goal. McKenzie received strong support from his teammates, Berhalter, the U.S. Soccer Federation, and many U.S. fans — including those who chanted his name while he was on the field.
“I came out of the Mexico game being extremely proud of Mark and the way he handled himself,” Berhalter said.
Berhalter said that McKenzie “didn’t need to play another minute” after starting the three previous games in this set, but he wanted the player to experience getting mentally ready for a contest with lower stakes than the last one.
“Now it’s time to make a statement, and you make a statement to Concacaf, you make a statement to the outside world, to your teammates about how you’re ready to play,” Berhalter said.
With this series of games complete, the U.S. team’s big stars now get a well-earned summer vacation. Berhalter will leave almost all the players on this squad off the team for July’s Concacaf Gold Cup, giving that opportunity to prospects and reserves. Aaronson said he’ll head to the Jersey Shore with his family; Downingtown’s Zack Steffen will go home as well to work on his charity foundation.
Their European clubs’ preseasons will start in late July, and the new campaigns will start in August. Not long thereafter, the players will head back across the Atlantic to play the biggest games of all in the quest to return the U.S. men to the World Cup.
“The guys are focused, the guys are ready to go, but they really need a break,” Berhalter said. “I can tell when we first got them in camp the amount of wear and tear that they had this season, and this break is going to be great for them.”