A young United States roster showed promise, which was enough for now.
Nicholas Gioacchini and Sebastian Soto each scored their first two international goals in a 6-2 exhibition rout of Panama on Monday night at Wiener Neustadt, Austria, the second of two matches for the Americans that followed a 10-month pandemic break.
Gio Reyna got his first goal three days after his 18th birthday, the third-youngest player to score in modern era.
Sebastian Lletget also got a goal in a physical, open match against a CONCACAF rival that reached the 2018 World Cup over the Americans.
“All we wanted to do from the beginning is get the fans on our side. It was an important thing, important step for us,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “People are excited to watch.”
Ten months before the delayed start of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, there was much to savor, even though the level was hard to compare to that of a competitive match.
“We’re all hungry to play, all hungry to start, all hungry to prove and to show what we’re made of,” said Gioacchini, a 20-year-old forward in his second season with the senior team at second-tier Caen in France.
Reyna broke through at Borussia Dortmund last season after starring for the 2019 under-17 team, and both dad Claudio Reyna and mom Danielle Egan played for the U.S.
Soto was a standout at last year’s Under-20 World Cup and is on second-tier Telstar in the Netherlands. He debuted along with Richy Ledezma, a 20-year-old midfielder who made his first senior appearance for PSV Eindhoven on Nov. 1; and Chris Richards, a 20-year-old defender who made his first Bayern Munich appearance on June 20.
Only Christian Pulisic (17 years, 253 days in 2016), who missed this game with a hamstring injury, and Juan Agudelo (17 years, 359 days in 2010) scored at a younger age.
“You can still see a lot of times we’ve only been together for a week. But I think you also saw some really good things,” Reyna said. “Just slowly bringing this group together. By the time qualifying comes we’ll be ready to compete.”
José Fajardo scored his first two goals for Panama. He beat goalkeeper Zack Steffen in the eighth minute with a glancing header following a cross by Alejandro Yearwood that split central defenders Tim Ream and Matt Miazga, then cut the gap to 3-2 in the 79th minute with a 12-yard left-footed shot off a pass from Omar Browne.
The U.S. dominated the first half with 72% possession and finished with a 15-8 advantage in shots, though it struggled to create for much of the second half.
Reyna tied the score in the 17th minute with a 19-yard free kick, a one-hopper that went to the left of debuting goalkeeper Orlando Mosquera after Weston McKennie was tripped by Michael Murillo.
Gioacchini put the U.S. ahead in the 22nd minute with a right-footed shot from 8 yards after Reyna crossed to Uly llanez, whose 12-yard shot was spilled by Mosquera.
Gioacchini got his second on a short-range diving header in the 26th after Tyler Adams crossed and Miazga headed the ball back across the goalmouth. He had a chance for a hat trick in the 65th but shot a penalty kick at Mosquera after a hand ball on Óscar Linton.
Soto entered in the 77th minute and scored on a 6-yard header from a cross by Lletget following an overlapping run by Reggie Cannon, who started at right back as Sergiño Dest moved to the left. Cannon crossed again for Lletget’s short header in the 87th, his third international goal, and Ledezma had a long, looping cross for Soto in the first minute of stoppage time.
The U.S. has used 91 players since the October 2017 defeat at Trinidad and Tobago that eliminated the Americans from the 2018 World Cup, including 53 debuting. The starting lineup averaged 22 years, 154 days, the second-youngest American lineup behind an average of 22 years, 71 days for an exhibition at Italy on Nov. 20, 2018.
Yunus Musah, a midfielder for Valencia who turns 18 on Nov. 29, became the first American male to start multiple games before his 18th birthday. He also is eligible to play for England.
“We got a little bit of a taste of what the CONCACAF teams would be like against us,” Reyna said. “We’re all just thinking about this game and we’re happy. Guys made their debuts and scored the goals. Overall, just a good night.”
NOTES: Berhalter said Monday the U.S. may schedule another match next month, which presumably would be with players mostly from Major League Soccer.
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