Gregg Berhalter became only the second American coach to win his first three games when Gyasi Zardes scored a bizarre goal that deflected off a defender, looped over goalkeeper Alexander Dominguez and ricocheted in off the crossbar in the 81st minute for a 1-0 exhibition win over Ecuador on Thursday night.
Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams, a trio of 20-year-olds who have become regulars in the German Bundesliga, started together for the first time as Berhalter had the full American player pool available. The U.S., still recovering from its failure to qualify for last year’s World Cup, showed some of the fluidity and offensive spark Berhalter sought but also was exposed for defensive gaps that stronger opponents would exploit.
McKennie limped off about 20 minutes into the second half after twisting his left ankle when landing after jumping for a header with Ecuador’s Carlos Gruezo, who low-bridged him a bit. McKennie reached the corner flag with assistance, grimacing, and then needed a stretcher to come off the field.
Paul Arriola had two excellent chances, getting stopped by Dominguez in the 26th minute and then putting the ball in the net in the 30th only for Jordan Morris to get ruled offside during the buildup.
Zardes scored when his shot from about 22 yards hit bounded off Robert Arboleda. Dominguez, standing about 6 yards off his line, backpedaled slowly and despite his 6-foot-5 frame was unable to tip the ball over the crossbar. Zardes’ previous goal also was against Ecuador, in the 2016 Copa America quarterfinals.
Berhalter matched Bob Bradley as the only U.S. coaches to start 3-0. Hired in December as the first American to play for the U.S. in the World Cup and coach the national team, Berhalter began with wins over Panama and Costa Rica with a roster all from Major League Soccer.
The U.S. plays South American champion Chile on Tuesday in Houston.
Berhalter is employing a formation that is a 4-3-3 in the attack and a 4-4-2 on defense.
Adams was moved from central midfield to right back, a position he played in his youth, but he had freedom to roam forward to the center of the field and was even on the left side late in the first half.
Berhalter spread the Americans across the field and into wide positions far more than his predecessors, playing Arriola on the left flank and Morris on the right, where he could cut in and try to shoot with his stronger left foot. Morris had not appeared since January 2018, a month before tearing his right anterior cruciate ligament.
Sean Johnson made his first start in goal since the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July 2013. John Brooks and Aaron Long were in central defense and Tim Ream was at left back, his first appearance since a poor performance in the 2-0 home loss to Costa Rica in a World Cup qualifier in September 2017. Ream, the oldest American starter at 31, captained the U.S. for the first time.
Wil Trapp was in holding midfield, and McKennie and Pulisic were central attacking midfielders. Zardes was up front, a position that could go to Jozy Altidore when he returns from ankle surgery or 19-year-old Josh Sargent, who is with the Under-23 team this week.
Ecuador, which also failed to reach last year’s World Cup, was missing striker Enner Valencia because of a back injury. Well-regarded 18-year-old Leonardo Campana entered to start the second half in his international debut.