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Reyna, Pulisic lead US over Northern Ireland 2-1 in friendly

March 28, 2021 GMT
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United States's Christian Pulisic scores his side's second goal from penalty during an international friendly soccer match between Northern Ireland and United States, at Windsor Park, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
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United States's Christian Pulisic scores his side's second goal from penalty during an international friendly soccer match between Northern Ireland and United States, at Windsor Park, Belfast, Northern Ireland, Sunday, March 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

The U.S. broke out a 3-4-3 formation with wingbacks, a new weapon in the team’s arsenal under coach Gregg Berhalter that opened space for Christian Pulisic.

The result was the Americans’ first win at a European opponent in six years.

Gio Reyna scored on a deflected shot off a pass from Pulisic in the 30th minute, Pulisic doubled the lead with a penalty kick in the 59th and the United States beat Northern Ireland 2-1 Sunday in an exhibition at Belfast.

“That’s where I want to be. I want to help lead this team in whatever way that is, whether that’s with the captain’s band or not,” Pulisic said. “I hope I can always lead by example and be one of the hardest workers out there. And that’s always going to be my aim. And if I do that, I think the guys will see that and do the same, I hope.”

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Pulisic captained the U.S. for the fourth time, the first since Oct. 11, 2019, against Cuba.

Berhalter’s formation morphed into a 5-4-1 at times that resulted in better defensive pressure on a bumpy field with soft patches.

“I think it gives the team a lot of stability in the back, especially it allows you to swing the ball around just having that extra man in the back,” Pulisic said. “And it just allows me to come inside a bit more and for me to find that space in the pocket.”

Berhalter made four changes, inserting Tim Ream and Matt Miazga as part of a three-man central defense with Aaron Long. Antonee Robinson started at left wing and Sergiño Dest shifted from left back to right wing. Jordan Siebatcheu got his first start after making his debut in Thursday’s 4-1 win over Jamaica at Wiener Neustadt, Austria.

“Christian, their team plays a similar way, right? Sergiño at Barcelona plays a similar way,” Berhalter said. “Antonee Robinson at Fulham plays as a wingback. Gio played the similar position for Dortmund. So we thought that they would be comfortable playing that way.”

Reyna received a pass from Ream and took four touches with no pressure. His right-footed shot from 24 yards deflected off a leg of Ciaron Brown and over goalkeeper Conor Hazard for his second international goal.

“Whenever you beat a European team, it’s always good for your confidence,” Reyna said.

Pulisic, who often plays on a wing for Chelsea, earned the penalty when the took a pass from Reyna and was tripped by Daniel Ballard. He slid the ball to the left of Hazard for his 15th international goal and a 2-0 lead.

“When he’s in that type of mode, he is just an unbelievable player,” Berhalter said. “And that’s what I was most happy with today. He was relentless pressing. He just kept going and going and going. And then he’s so good on the ball, he can balance the team.”

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Niall McGinn scored his sixth international goal in the 88th with a sharply angled volley after getting past Robinson, who was hobbling after hurting his left leg on a sliding tackle by Alistair McCann.

No. 45 Northern Ireland made 10 changes from the lineup that started Thursday’s 2-0 loss to Italy in a World Cup qualifier, keeping only Corry Evans. Next is a qualifier against Bulgaria on Wednesday.

The 22nd-ranked Americans, preparing for a Nations League semifinal against Honduras in June and the start of World Cup qualifying in September, have eight wins and a draw in their last nine matches, and they’ve outscored opponents 25-4 in winning five consecutive friendlies. They had not won at a European opponent since a 4-3 friendly victory at Germany in June 2015.

Yusuf Musah, an 18-year-old midfielder who played for England’s youth national teams, became tied to the United States by making his fourth international appearance. Under a new FIFA rule, players under 21 may switch national association only if they play three or fewer matches under the age of 21.

Defender Bryan Reynolds replaced Dest at the start of the second half, the 65th player to debut since a 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago and the 44th under Berhalter.

Daryl Dike entered in the 62nd minute and was denied when Ciaron Brown deflected his shot, then was saved by Hazard and put in a header wide.

“Daryl was another guy that I felt had a big impact on the game, with his strength, with his movement behind the line, which I think has improved,” Berhalter said. “The only thing I’d be slightly critical of is that he didn’t finish the chances that he had.”

Next up is a May 30 exhibition at Switzerland, followed by the CONCACAF Nations League semifinal at home against Honduras on June 3. But the focus is the start of World Cup qualifying on Sept. 2, most likely at Trinidad and Tobago, where the October 2017 loss prevented the Americans from going to the 2018 World Cup.

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