Chelsea star Christian Pulisic played a leading role as the United States launched their final preparations for the World Cup with a convincing 3-0 friendly win over fellow qualifiers Morocco on Wednesday.
Pulisic created a goal for new Leeds signing Brenden Aaronson and won a penalty converted by debutant Haji Wright as the US claimed a first ever win over Morocco at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium.
Lille forward Timothy Weah scored the other US goal in a torrid outing for Morocco, who also missed a dubiously awarded second-half penalty when Selim Amallah hit the crossbar.
“Christian was in a position where he could hurt them, he was our man of the match, the way he led with intensity and also his performance on the field,” US coach Gregg Berhalter said.
Berhalter meanwhile was happy with his team’s display as they build towards Qatar, where their first round opponents will be England, Iran and either Ukraine or Wales.
“We talked before the game about having a baseline about how we can perform against World Cup opponents and they showed how good we can be although sometimes we were vulnerable,” Berhalter said.
“We need to keep improving, they were a dangerous opponent but we controlled the match well and created a number of chances.”
Berhalter had demanded an aggressive performance, and the hosts delivered with a bright opening, striker Jesus Ferreira and Weah forcing saves Morocco’s Sevilla goalkeeper Yassine Bounou early on.
Morocco, who will play Belgium, Canada and Croatia in the first round of the World Cup, should have taken the lead on 12 minutes, when Watford left back Adam Masina exposed the US defence only to see his shot parried away by new Arsenal goalkeeper Matt Turner.
Tarik Tissoudali pounced on the follow-up but his effort was blocked by Aaron Long for a corner.
Morocco continued to look dangerous on the counter-attack, and another flowing move saw Masina advance down the left flank and pass inside for Tissoudali but his effort failed to trouble Turner.
The American breakthrough came on 26 minutes with a goal crafted by Pulisic.
A hopeful long ball forward from defender Walker Zimmerman sent Pulisic clear and the Chelsea forward controlled superbly, danced away from Samy Mmae and Romain Seiss before squaring to Aaronson who buried a low finish into the empty net.
The US doubled their tally six minutes later with an individual strike from Weah. The France-based forward was given too much space on the edge of the Morocco area and thumped a firm shot through the hands of Bounou, who should have done better.
The US could have made it 3-0 on the stroke of half-time, when Aaronson threaded a pass through to Ferreira whose shot was saved by Bounou.
Berhalter rang the changes at half-time with Wright replacing Ferreira, Cameron Carter-Vickers coming on for Zimmerman and Joe Scally stepping in for Antonee Robinson.
The US effectively sealed the win midway through the half when Pulisic cleverly drew a clumsy foul from Achraf Hakimi for a clear penalty.
The US skipper could have added to his international goal tally but instead handed the spot-kick duties to former youth international team-mate and debutant Wright, who duly stroked home the finish.
“Haji and me go way back so I think he needed that goal and he said he was confident to go step up and take it, so I wanted him to get that confidence. I’m happy he scored,” said Pulisic.
There was still time for drama at the other end when Scally was harshly adjudged to have fouled Soufiane Rahimi.
But Amallah crashed his penalty against the bar.
The USA’s World Cup preparations continue on Sunday with a friendly against Uruguay in Kansas City.