LOS ANGELES: Teenager Ricardo Pepi scored twice as the United States secured the second win of their 2022 World Cup qualifying campaign with a 2-0 victory over Jamaica on Thursday.
Pepi, the 18-year-old from Texas who had scored on his debut during a 4-1 victory over Honduras last month, struck twice in the second half to secure all three points for Gregg Berhalter’s side in Austin.
After struggling in unconvincing draws against El Salvador and Canada last month, Berhalter’s young side broke down a rugged Jamaica team who remain bottom of the eight-team final CONCACAF qualifying group.
The Reggae Boyz were fortunate to finish the game with 11 men on the field after two first-half flashpoints that might have resulted in red cards.
The game was less than a minute old when Pepi released Paul Arriola with a through ball only for the D.C. United forward to be tripped by the covering Kemar Lawrence.
Grenadan referee Reon Radix however only gave a yellow card for the foul however as Jamaica escaped.
Radix produced another yellow card on 34 minutes after adjudging that Devon Williams had cleaned out Brenden Aaronson as the talented 20-year-old Red Bull Salzburg forward went through on goal.
As frustration mounted, Jamaica served notice that the US defence could not afford to switch off.
Jamal Lowe forced Matt Turner into a smart save on 42 minutes with a curling shot from the edge of the area, and on the stroke of half-time, Belgium-based striker Shamar Nicholson glanced a corner just wide of the post.
That was to be the highpoint of the Jamaican goal threat, however, and four minutes after halftime the US took the lead.
Yunus Musah, the New York-born 18-year-old Valencia central midfielder who opted to play for the US after being eligible to represent Italy, England and Ghana, drove forward deep into Jamaican territory and passed to Barcelona fullback Sergino Dest.
Dest calmly picked out Pepi with a chipped cross and the FC Dallas striker steered his header past Andre Blake to make it 1-0.
Musah might have doubled the US lead three minutes later, with another driving run into the area before shooting only to be denied by Blake at the near post.
The second goal arrived on 62 minutes, and once again Pepi was in the right place at the right time.
Antonee Robinson released Aaronson down the left, and the forward passed into the feet of Pepi in the area for the simplest of finishes to make it 2-0.
The win leaves the United States on top of the CONCACAF standings with eight points from four games.
Mexico can regain top spot with victory over Canada later Thursday. In other games Thursday, Honduras host Costa Rica while El Salvador face Panama.