The entire game soon flipped.
Ricardo Pepi put the U.S. ahead in the 75th minute, Brenden Aaronson and Sebastian Lletget added late goals and the U.S. rolled past Honduras 4-1 Wednesday night.
“I think it’s really important that we did that just to show everyone that at times it’s going to be a hard qualifying process, but we’re ready for the challenges that’ll come ahead,” Robinson said. “We can respond to anything.”
Pepi had a goal and two assists in his debut, and the Americans exhaled after a tumultuous week of injuries, positive COVID-19 tests and a huge disciplinary issue. They won for just the second time in 41 qualifiers in which they trailed at halftime (six draws).
Coach Gregg Berhalter held a team meeting before the match and told players that opening draws at El Salvador and at home against Canada “wouldn’t have doomed the qualifying.” U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen, defender Sergiño Dest and midfielder Gio Reyna had gotten hurt, Steffen tested positive for COVID and midfielder Weston McKennie was sent home by Berhalter for violating team COVID protocols.
Berhalter thought the talk helped players begin to relax.
“Despite all this crap that happened in these last couple days, the guys’ spirits were extremely high,” he said.
Still, Brayan Moya put 63rd-ranked Honduras ahead in the 27th minute, breaking free of George Bello and heading a cross from Diego Rodríguez past goalkeeper Matt Turner after John Brooks lost the ball.
That put the 10th-ranked Americans in a daunting position: They had given up the first goal in 33 previous road World Cup qualifiers, winning two, losing 26 and tying five.
Berhalter told players at halftime they had to change more than formation.
“We need to compete, and that was something I was disappointed with,” he recalled saying. “When they scored, instead of seeing that reaction that we’re used to, I think their heads went down a little bit.”
And to make the challenge greater, Christian Pulisic injured his left ankle early in the second half, tried to continue and fell in a heap during a sprint a few minutes later. He was replaced in the 62nd minute.
“When Christian goes down, it’s always like, mmm, you take like a deep breath because he’s our best player,” Aaronson said.
Pepi, who scored the winning penalty kick in last month’s Major League Soccer All-Star Game against Liga MX, at 18 years, 242 days became the second-youngest American to appear in a qualifier behind Pulisic at 17 years, 193 days in March 2016.
The Dallas forward chose to play for the U.S. over Mexico, the 65th player to appear for the Americans since the October 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago ended a streak of seven straight World Cup appearances. He was the 42nd since Berhalter was hired in December 2018.
“I feel like he had confidence in me,” Pepi said, “so I just went out there and do my thing.”
Berhalter made five lineup changes, inserting Pepi, Bello, Mark McKenzie and James Sands for their qualifying debuts and bringing back Josh Sargent, who started the opener. They were part of a lineup that averaged the youngest ever for the U.S. in a qualifier at 23 years, 85 days, one that had Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Kellyn Acosta in a 3-5-2 formation, with Adams playing wide on the right rather than defensive midfield.
At halftime, the U.S. went back to its normal 4-3-3.
“We needed to push up much quicker,” Berhalter said, “give our midfielders smaller space to be able to win balls. We wanted to be more aggressive high pressing them, and we thought that would lead to some turnovers.”
Criticized for waiting too long to insert substitutes on Sunday, Berhalter injected Robinson, Lletget and Aaronson to start the second half for Brooks, Bello and Sargent. The horn-blowing full house of about 31,000 at Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano quickly was silenced.
Robinson tied it in the 48th with his first international goal. Pulisic took a pass from Pepi at midfield, dribbled and dished wide to Lletget, who crossed. Pepi made a backheel drop in the 6-yard box to Robinson, who scored with a right-footed volley from 8 yards.
Pepi put the U.S. ahead in the 75th. Two minutes after replacing Sands, DeAndre Yedlin crossed and Pepi outjumped Marcelo Pereira to loop a header to the left of goalkeeper Luis López.
Pepi burst into the penalty area in the 86th and squared for Aaronson, whose right-footed shot from 12 yards was his fifth international goal and second of qualifying.
“I was so fired up today, I don’t know what kind of took over me, but I was just ready to go, and you could see it with all the subs. It was a spark,” Aaronson said
Luis López got a hand on Pepi’s shot in the third minute of stoppage time. Lletget, following up on the play, banged the ball into the open net for his eighth international goal. The U.S. scored four goals in a qualifier in Central America for the first time.
“We just fought,” Lletget said. “We knew we just had to match their intensity. That was the biggest change in the second half.”
Mexico leads the North and Central American and Caribbean region with seven points, followed by Canada and the U.S. with five points each and identical goals for and against. Panama has five points and trails on goals, while Costa Rica and Honduras have two points apiece and Jamaica none. The top three nations qualify.
“Maybe we thought it was going to be easier than it was going down to El Salvador, Honduras,” Adams said. “These are tough games, man. You see how hostile the crowds are, but the energy is amazing, the atmosphere is amazing. It’s only going to make us better for the future.”
Notes: Pulisic’s ankle will be evaluated by Chelsea. The European-based Americans took a charter flight to London and onto Berlin after the match. … Canada beat visiting El Salvador 3-0 on goals by Atiba Hutchison, Jonathan David and Tajon Buchanan. … Mexico got a 76th-minute goal from Jesús Corona in a 1-1 draw at Panama, which went ahead on Rolando Blackburn’s 28th-minute goal. … Costa Rica was held to a 1-1 draw by visiting Jamaica. Jimmy Marín scored in the third minute for the hosts and Shamar Nicholson tied the score in the 47th.
Atlanta Braves look to clinch National League pennant, first World Series appearance since 1999 with victory over Los Angeles Dodgers
Los Angeles Dodgers (106-56, second in the NL West) vs. Atlanta Braves (88-73, first in the NL East)
Atlanta, Georgia; Saturday, 8:08 p.m. EDT
PITCHING PROBABLES: Dodgers: TBD Braves: Ian Anderson (1-0, 3.58 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 124 strikeouts this postseason)
NLCS: Atlanta leads the series 3-2
BOTTOM LINE: Atlanta will look to clinch a series win with a victory over Los Angeles in Game 6 of the NLCS.
The Braves were 42-38 on their home turf in 2021. Atlanta has a team batting average of .247 this postseason, Eddie Rosario has led them with an average of .471, including four extra base hits and eight RBI.
The Dodgers posted a record of 48-33 away from home in 2021. Los Angeles has a team slugging percentage of .404 this postseason, Chris Taylor leads them with a mark of .818, including seven extra base hits and 12 RBI.
The Dodgers won the last meeting 11-2. Evan Phillips earned his first victory this postseason and Chris Taylor went 4-for-5 with three home runs and six RBI for Los Angeles. Max Fried took his first loss of the postseason for Atlanta.
TOP PERFORMERS: Freddie Freeman leads the Braves with 179 hits and has 83 RBI.
Trea Turner leads the Dodgers with 65 extra base hits and is batting .328.
DURING THE PLAYOFFS: Braves: .247 batting average, 3.58 ERA, outscored opponents by five runs
Dodgers: .252 batting average, 3.06 ERA, outscored opponents by 11 runs
INJURIES: Braves: Josh Tomlin: (neck), Mike Soroka: (achilles), Grant Dayton: (shoulder), Tucker Davidson: (forearm), Marcell Ozuna: (hand), Ronald Acuna Jr.: (knee).
Dodgers: Jimmie Sherfy: (elbow), Jimmy Nelson: (elbow), Dustin May: (elbow), Clayton Kershaw: (forearm), Tommy Kahnle: (elbow), Cole Hamels: (arm), Caleb Ferguson: (elbow), Danny Duffy: (forearm), Garrett Cleavinger: (oblique), Scott Alexander: (shoulder), Edwin Rios: (shoulder), Sheldon Neuse: (undisclosed), Max Muncy: (elbow).
Miami QB Tyler Van Dyke’s words help fuel NC State, Canes confident Wolfpack ‘can’t hang’ with them
University of Miami quarterback Tyler Van Dyke said this week without hesitation that he must get off to a faster start for the Hurricanes to win, his first opportunity coming at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at home against 18th-ranked NC State.
“It’s on me,’’ Van Dyke said. “I just have to get more comfortable in the beginning of the game. I’m capable of doing everything out there. I just gotta get the ball and let it rip.
Don’t think. Don’t aim. Just let it rip. …It’s totally on me.”
Read more from the Miami Herald.
García, Alvarez help Houston Astros oust Boston Red Sox, reach World Series
HOUSTON, Tex. — Rookie Luis García showed the poise of an October ace, MVP Yordan Alvarez stayed hot at the plate and the Houston Astros earned yet another trip to the World Series, beating the Boston Red Sox 5-0 Friday night in Game 6 of the AL Championship Series.
The Astros advanced to the World Series for the third time in five seasons. They won the championship in 2017, a crown tainted by the team’s sign-stealing scandal, before losing to the Washington Nationals in seven games in 2019.
Manager Dusty Baker’s team will open the World Series on Tuesday night, either at Dodger Stadium or home against Atlanta. The Braves lead Los Angeles 3-2 in the NL Championship Series going into Game 6 Saturday night.
“There’s four more wins on the board out there,” the 72-year-old Baker said. “There’s four more wins you’ve got to get.”
García pitched no-hit ball into the sixth inning, leaving to a huge ovation with two outs after a triple by Kiké Hernández. It was an impressive bounce-back performance for the 24-year-old, who started Game 2 and gave up a grand slam in the first inning before leaving with no outs in the second because of discomfort in his right knee.
Alvarez continued his scorching streak, a year after watching at home after surgery to both knees as the Astros came one game shy of reaching the World Series. The slugging designated hitter had four hits, including a triple and two doubles. He led a Game 5 win with three hits and three RBIs.
Álvarez hit an ALCS-record .522 (12 for 23) with one homer, three doubles, the triple and six RBIs in Houston’s six-game victory. He got nine hits in his last 13 at-bats.
Catcher Martín Maldonado made the defensive play of the game on a strikeout-throwout double play to end the seventh with Houston ahead 2-0.
It will be Baker’s second trip to the Fall Classic as a manager and first since leading the San Francisco Giants to the NL pennant in 2002. As a player, he made three trips with the Dodgers, winning it all in 1981.
“Hey, I’m going back to the World Series!” Baker told a cheering crowd at Minute Maid Park.
For Houston, it was a team victory featuring all facets of the game it used in taking the AL West title. The Astros won, too, without a hit from stars Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa — Alex Bregman got two hits and scored a run.
Boston’s best shot to score came in the seventh. The wild-card Red Sox had runners at first and third with one out in after a single by Alex Verdugo. But Kendall Graveman struck out pinch-hitter Travis Shaw and Maldonado made a perfect throw to Correa, who was covering second, to beat Verdugo there and end the inning.
Maldonado beat his chest with glee as Graveman and Correa both pumped their fists in celebration to roars from the crowd of 42,718.
Kyle Tucker broke it open with a three-run homer with two outs in the eighth. Television cameras flashed to Houston’s Hall of Fame duo of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, who stood together and cheered as Tucker rounded the bases.
Ryan Pressly closed it out in the ninth. The Red Sox, who looked so formidable at the plate at the start of the season, were held to two hits in their final game.
Bregman singled with two outs in the first before the double by Alvarez put the Astros up 1-0. Hernández was in position to make the catch, but it hit off his arm below his glove and dropped in for the hit.
Consecutive romps by Boston and its bashers made it appear that the Red Sox were in complete control of the series after Game 3, but as the long fly by Alvarez proved, they didn’t have a firm grip on things.
The Astros, buoyed by their young pitchers and rediscovered offense, won the next two games by a combined 18-3 to return home a win away from a World Series.
Framber Valdez pitched the Astros to a Game 5 win at Fenway Park, then their 24-year-old rising stars, García and Alvarez, did the rest.
Houston had a chance to add to the lead in the fourth when Bregman singled and another double by Alvarez left him at third with no outs. But they came up empty after Nathan Eovaldi worked out of the jam.
Alvarez tripled with no outs in the sixth to chase Josh Taylor and Tanner Houck plunked Correa. Tucker then smacked a grounder right at first baseman Kyle Schwarber who tagged Correa for the unassisted double play as Alvarez slid safely into home to make it 2-0.
Eovaldi got the win in a solid Game 2 start but was charged with the loss in Game 4 after giving up the go-ahead runs after coming in with the game tied in the ninth.
On Friday, he permitted five hits and one run as the Red Sox lost a playoff game where he started for the first time after entering the game 5-0 in his starts.
García is the first pitcher to take a no-hitter into sixth of a potential playoff clincher since the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard got two outs in sixth against the Giants in 2016 NL wild-card game.
García allowed Schwarber to reach on a wild pitch after a strikeout to open the game and walked Verdugo with one out in the second. He settled in after that, sitting down the next 13 with five strikeouts, before Hernández got Boston’s first hit on a triple with two outs in the sixth. García finished with seven strikeouts.
Phil Maton took over and retired Rafael Devers to end the inning.
SIGN OF THE TIMES
Boston manager Alex Cora has heard the speculation that the Astros are relaying signs from the bases and said the Red Sox protect themselves against that.
“It’s not about technology or other stuff,” Cora said. “There’s stuff that happens on the field that you have to be guarded. The same way that teams play defense against us, we play defense against other teams. Not only them we did it against the Yankees, we did it against the Rays. It’s the nature of the game. We’re prepared for that.”
Cora knows better than most about Houston’s sign-stealing history having been the team’s bench coach during the 2017 season when they were found to have violated rules by using a television camera to steal catchers’ signs.
The Astros will make their fourth World Series appearance. They lost in their first try, swept by the Chicago White Sox in 2005.
Game 1 of the World Series is Tuesday night where the Astros will host if the Braves advance or Houston will travel to LA if the Dodgers win the NL pennant.