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USA routs Honduras in World Cup qualifying match

By Rick Kaplan, The Sports Xchange
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USA's Clint Dempsey, right, and Matt Besler (5) rushes in to hug Gyasi Zardes (9) after he scored a goal against Ecuador in a 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer quarterfinals at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington on June 16, 2016. USA beats Ecuador 2-1 to advance to semi-finals Photo by Jim Bryant/ UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/7c43f1deed08e30d4430ce74c3ff3e15/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
USA's Clint Dempsey, right, and Matt Besler (5) rushes in to hug Gyasi Zardes (9) after he scored a goal against Ecuador in a 2016 Copa America Centenario soccer quarterfinals at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Washington on June 16, 2016. USA beats Ecuador 2-1 to advance to semi-finals Photo by Jim Bryant/ UPI | License Photo

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- An emphatic goal explosion put the United States men's national team's World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.

Behind a hat trick from Clint Dempsey and a stellar all-around performance from 18-year-old Christian Pulisic, Team USA blew past Honduras 6-0 Friday in the rain at Avaya Stadium.

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The Americans recorded their first victory in the final round of qualifying for the North American, Central American and Caribbean region. The U.S. team, which opened the day last in the six-team CONCACAF hexagonal group, is up to fourth.

Local product Sebastian Lletget opened the scoring in the fifth minute, and veterans Michael Bradley (27th minute) and Dempsey (32nd minute) boosted the lead before halftime.

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Pulisic, who set up the first goal and assisted on two others, got on the scoresheet himself 14 seconds after halftime. Dempsey added on in the 49th minute, then scored on a stunning 24-yard free kick in the 54th minute.

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Dempsey was back on the field in red, white and blue for the first time since last June. He missed most of last year after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.

U.S. goalie Tim Howard made four saves for his 36th career national-team shutout.

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Team USA jumped in front quickly when Jozy Altidore chipped a pass over the top of the defense for Pulisic, who was racing into the box. Pulisic's shot was saved by Honduras goalkeeper Donis Escober, but the ball rolled to the far side of the box, where an unmarked Lletget calmly tapped it into an open net.

Lletget, a 24-year-old Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder, was born in nearby San Francisco and grew up in the San Jose area. He was making just his third appearance for the U.S. national team.

However, 10 minutes after his goal, Lletget was cut down by Ever Alvarado while making a run down the right sideline. Alvarado was issued a yellow card, and Lletget came up limping. In the 18th minute, Lletget exited the game, replaced by Alejandro Bedoya.

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Bradley added to the lead with a spectacular strike in the 27th minute. Dribbling with the ball from right to left just above the top of the box, Bradley turned and fired a 20-yard shot that beat Escober and crept inside the far post.

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Dempsey marked his return to U.S. duty with a display of power for the third goal, which had a similar buildup to the first. Pulisic knocked a short pass over the defense, Dempsey headed it forward as he crossed into the 18-yard box, and while being fouled, slid the ball across Escober into the far corner.

The referee was signaling an advantage call when the goal was scored, meaning the U.S. likely would have received a penalty kick if Dempsey's shot had been saved or gone wide.

Just after halftime, Pulisic and Dempsey both scored from close range before Dempsey powered in a free-kick screamer. Shooting from the goalie's left a few yards beyond the box, Dempsey blasted the ball into the top corner inside the far post.

The game was the first World Cup qualifier in Bruce Arena's second stint as U.S. coach. Arena led the team from 1998-2006, taking Team USA to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals, the nation's best result since 1930.

After losing the first two matches in the 10-game final round of CONCACAF qualifying, Team USA fired coach Jurgen Klinsmann and brought back Arena in hopes that he would get the team back on track reach Russia next year.

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The top three teams in the CONCACAF hexagonal earn automatic places in the 2018 World Cup. The fourth-place CONCACAF team will oppose the fifth-place team from Asia in a two-legged playoff for another World Cup spot.

Howard was back after groin surgery kept him off the national team since November. However, the U.S. was without two players who likely would have started, midfielder/defender Fabian Johnson (thigh) and forward Bobby Wood (back).

NOTES: Honduras plays host to Costa Rica on Tuesday. The U.S. travels to face Panama on Tuesday. ... USA defender John Brooks left injured in the 70th minute. ... With 55 career goals, Clint Dempsey is two shy of matching Landon Donovan for the top total in Team USA history. ... In a pregame ceremony, former U.S. women's national team players Shannon MacMillan and Brandi Chastain were inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame. ... Team USA improved its all-time record vs. Honduras to 16-4-4, including 6-2-1 in World Cup qualifiers. ... The U.S. squad included F Chris Wondolowski and G David Bingham, two members of the San Jose Earthquakes, whose stadium played host to the game. However, neither appeared in the game.

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