WASHINGTON — The U.S. men’s soccer team started its inaugural Concacaf Nations League campaign as expected, dismissing Cuba, 7-0, at Audi Field.
It took just 30 seconds for the U.S. to score the opening goal, with Weston McKennie finishing a cross from right winger Jordan Morris. The same combination doubled the lead with just over four minutes gone, and four minutes after that McKennie returned the favor for Morris to finish.
McKennie completed his hat trick with 12:07 on the clock, the fastest hat trick in men’s national team history. The rest of the night was an exercise. Josh Sargent and Christian Pulisic also scored, and there was a Cuban-own goal along the way.
“You get a live opponent in a meaningful game and you have to go execute,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “You can’t overlook them, and I think our preparation dictated that.”
It was a useful exercise, though, or at least as useful as could be against an overwhelmed opponent. Berhalter was able to give McKennie and Morris the second half off and play some reserves. He also shifted Pulisic to a central playmaking role until subbing off the Hershey native in the 67th minute.
The impact of the night will be felt more in the long term. Nations League games count toward qualifying for the 2021 Gold Cup and 2022 World Cup, and count more in FIFA’s global rankings than friendlies against big-name opponents. That affects seeding for the World Cup group draw.
So if the U.S. qualifies for 2022 — which should be assumed, but can’t be anymore — this game will help the résumé.
It will also help in the near term, as only the group winner makes the Nations League’s final round. Mexico and Costa Rica will likely await there, and will need no introduction.
On Tuesday, the Americans play Canada, the other team in the group (7:30 p.m., ESPN2, UniMás and TUDN). That should be a fair test, with a partisan home crowd and a team with good young talent. Canada won its two games against Cuba by a 7-0 combined score, which means the U.S. already has a goal difference advantage.
There’s a lot of hype for the game up north. Canada hasn’t won in the series since 1985, and has its own stakes to play for. The top six Concacaf teams in FIFA’s global rankings come next June will go directly to the final round of World Cup qualifying, and Canada is seventh by a narrow margin (No. 75 overall to El Salvador’s No. 72). A Canadian win over the team they’d most like to beat would be a big help.