WASHINGTON (AP) — Weston McKennie got the U.S. off to a record-setting start against Cuba in the Americans’ CONCACAF Nations League debut.
McKennie scored 32 seconds into the game and had the fastest hat trick from the kickoff in U.S. history, helping the Americans overwhelm Cuba 7-0 on Friday night.
“If I could have written the game up, it would have been exactly like this. Score early, score many goals early, and then cruise,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “That was important, so I think we saved ourselves. I think we’ll be fit, ready to go against Canada.”
Jordan Morris scored and tied a U.S. record with three assists and Josh Sargent also had a goal as the 21st-ranked Americans burst to a 6-0 halftime lead against No. 179 Cuba and set their modern record for goals in a half.
Christian Pulisic converted a penalty kick in the 62nd minute, nonchalantly putting his shot in the center of the net for his 14th international goal, then was expressionless. The U.S. women’s team was criticized by some for celebrating late goals during a 13-0 rout of Thailand at the World Cup in June.
The Nations League, a new tournament for teams from North and Central America and the Caribbean, has relatively low stakes but provides additional competitive matches, though former U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann called it “a waste of time” for regional powers to meet weaker nations. The next match, against 75th-ranked Canada at Toronto on Tuesday, is important for the hosts as they try to climb in the FIFA rankings and earn a spot in the hexagonal that will determine the three direct berths of the North and Central American and Caribbean region for the 2022 World Cup.
The U.S., which stopped three-game winless streak, finished one goal shy of its record for goals and victory margin. The Americans are 11-1-1 against Cuba, winning 11 straight matchups for their longest victory streak against an opponent.
“Obviously we understood that this game was going to be difficult for us,” Cuba coach Pablo Sanchez said through a translator.
Friday’s game came two years and one day after the U.S. lost at Trinidad and Tobago, missing out on qualifying for last year’s World Cup in Russia.
This is a new team, with a younger core of players and a new offensive system that they are still learning, and the Americans found plenty of motivation.
“It was another opportunity to keep rehearsing some of the movements we’ve been working on in training all week. You get a live opponent in a meaningful game and you have to go execute,” Berhalter said. “I think we maintained that focus and intensity for the entire first half, and you see the outcome, scoring six goals. So overall I think it was a worthwhile game, for us to continue to grow.”
McKennie banged home a cross from Morris from 8 yards for the second-fastest U.S. goal after Clint Dempsey’s score at 30 seconds against Ghana at the 2014 World Cup.
Morris found McKennie again in the fifth minute, again beating left back Manuel Cruz, who was replaced at the start of the second half.
McKennie returned the favor in the ninth as Morris converted and McKennie got his third in the 13th minute on a cross from Reggie Cannon, his sixth goal in 16 international appearances.
McKennie said he’s been building chemistry with Morris off the field.
“Probably a Fortnite connection,” McKennie said. “We play Fortnite on our down time a lot. I think we understand each other very well.”
The previous fastest hat trick for the U.S. from the opening whistle was by Brian McBride’s in the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup against El Salvador, when he scored in the ninth, 11th and 21st minutes.
“One of my strengths is always being able to arrive in the box late, or just find a way to get in the box,” McKennie said. “Luckily today, the ball just found my foot, the right spots, the right time.”
Cuba’s Dario Ramos deflected in an own goal in the 37th and Sargent connected from 15 yards off a pass from Morris three minutes later.
“Even though we were up so many goals in the first half, I thought we could have come out a little better in the second half and get even more goals. Not to be disrespectful or anything,” Sargent said. “It’s just our mentality. We want to play the same way and be ruthless.”