Welcome back, Ricardo Pepi and Miles Robinson! USMNT Winners and Losers as duo puts World Cup disappointment behind them with star performances vs El Salvador

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Turner Robinson 2023 El Salvador USMNT
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Two players that missed the World Cup stole the show as the U.S. took down El Salvador to book their spot in the Nations League semifinals

If this match was anything to go by, the U.S. men's national team probably missed both Ricardo Pepi and Miles Robinson at the World Cup.

Both missed out on Qatar for different reasons: Robinson due to an Achilles injury and Pepi due to a total loss of form and confidence following a failed move to Augsburg. But both are now very much back in the picture, having put in incredible performances in the 1-0 win over El Salvador.

It served as a reminder of what many people already knew: that these two are over their terrible 2022 and back to the form that might them so vital just one year prior.

Both look to have big futures, both in 2023 in beyond, with both emerging as big winners from this match and this camp. On a night where the USMNT was slightly lethargic, both provided what was neccessary to see off a very game El Salvador team that, at times, looked ready to steal a result.

They ultimately didn't and, because of that, the USMNT are onto the Nations League semifinals. Will we see Pepi and Robinson there? Almost certainly. After some time away, both are right back in the mix.

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  1. WINNER: Ricardo Pepi

    WINNER: Ricardo Pepi

    The hype train was off the tracks for a while, but Pepi is well and truly back.

    After scoring twice against Grenada, he added another against El Salvador off the bench: a fantastic chipped finish. It came just moments after he came into the game and it ultimately won the USMNT the game. Can't make much more of an impact than that, right?

    Pepi had quite the impact this camp and, although you do have to note the opposition, it's a welcome site for the USMNT. There's a pretty serious chance that he just played his way right back to the top of the No. 9 depth chart after tumbling down it due to his loss of confidence in 2022.

    He's confident now as he'll head back to Groningen to help them fight relegation. Where he ends up after that, who knows? It'll be an interesting summer for 20-year-old forward.

    But, whatever happens on the club level, Pepi should plan to be right back with the USMNT the next time the full team gathers in June

  2. LOSER: El Salvador

    LOSER: El Salvador

    Not a loser in the sense that they did anything wrong, but more a loser in the sense that they probably deserved more.

    USMNT head coach Anthony Hudson pointed out that it was a game of two halves and, by and large, he was right. In the first half, the U.S. struggled to match El Salvador's intensity, with Hugo Perez, the former USMNT midfielder and U.S. Soccer youth coach, getting the very best out of his team despite the obvious talent gap.

    That is the theme with Perez's teams: he gets the best out of them. El Salvador under Perez is a completely different team than those of yesteryear. They're well-drilled, energetic and, most importantly, competitive.

    This El Salvador team is a one that could stun a few of the traditional CONCACAF powers, much like they nearly did in the 1-1 draw with the USMNT last year that was only saved by a late Jordan Morris goal. With Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying right around the corner, there should be brighter days than this ahead for Perez's program.

  3. WINNER: Miles Robinson

    WINNER: Miles Robinson

    For a player that just missed about a year with a devastating injury, Robinson didn't look half bad.

    In fact, he looked incredible. He may well have been the USMNT's best player: a dominant superstar of a centerback that looked so, so comfortable.

    "The one recovery run that he had, he looked like he was shot off with rockets," said his centerback partner Tim Ream.

    The pace that helped made Robinson a star in MLS is still there, and so too is a super smart and cerebral approach to defending. Every time El Salvador got him one-on-one, Robinson swatted them away with ease. If he wasn't running so damn fast, you'd think he wasn't getting out of first gear.

    It makes you wonder just what might have been if he had been healthy at the World Cup. When healthy, Robinson is still probably the guy for the USMNT, and seeing him fit and playing again is great news heading into the summer.

  4. LOSER: USMNT wide players

    LOSER: USMNT wide players

    A big overarching theme on this one: the USMNT's wingers and fullbacks just didn't quite look in sync.

    On one side, Christian Pulisic and Antonee Robinson, neither of whom had their best games in the attacking end. Pulisic's first touch let him down a few times, although he nearly did score a stunner late. Robinson, meanwhile, was solid enough defensively, but was a bit wayward with his crosses in a game where those were very available.

    The other side? Not much better. Alejandro Zendejas popped up in some good spaces, but wasn't quite as impactful as he had been in his first two appearances, while Sergino Dest had his attacking spirit, but the crispness of a player that is barely playing for Milan. The two of them struggled to combine early, but eventually improved as the game wore on, to be fair.

    It's nitpicking, to be fair, as all involved have looked fantastic for the USMNT in most of their appearances. Still, on this night, if one side was on, this one could have been a bit more comfortable than it was.

  5. WINNER: Folarin Balogun

    WINNER: Folarin Balogun

    He wasn't even in Orlando for the El Salvador game, but his presence was surely felt. There were banners everywhere bearing his name.

    One, walked around pregame by a group of supporters, sent a clear message: "We Want Flo!" One fan in the stands already had a No. 9 Balogun USMNT jersey. Slightly premature, but a statement nonetheless.

    Balogun is the man of the moment for the USMNT and, as things stand, he is still not a USMNT player. His trip to Orlando certainly showed that he is very much open to the idea, but there's still a long way to go in this saga.

    USMNT fandom has been sent into a frenzy and, if he keeps scoring in Ligue 1, who knows what will happen with England. Regardless, the USMNT have worked hard to charm him throughout this week and will until the day he ultimately decided where his allegiances lie.

    Should he commit, he'll instantly become a USMNT hero. It's all in his hands now.