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Another Jesús Ferreira hat trick powers USMNT to another Gold Cup rout

CHARLOTTE — Even without most of its top players, the U.S. men’s national soccer team has high expectations for this Concacaf Gold Cup. Two years ago, such absences did not prevent a championship campaign, and with the program reigning supreme in the region the past few years, nothing short of an appearance in the July 16 final will suffice.

The compulsories ended Sunday with a 6-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago that, combined with Group A’s other result, left the Americans atop the quartet and on course for another deep run in the biennial tournament.

The United States and Jamaica each finished 2-0-1 — the Reggae Boyz routed St. Kitts and Nevis, 5-0, on Sunday in Santa Clara, Calif. — but the Americans enjoyed a superior goal differential (plus-12 to Jamaica’s plus-eight). In a quarterfinal next Sunday in Cincinnati, the Americans will face the second-place finisher from Group D: Guadeloupe, Guatemala or Canada. That group will wrap up Tuesday.

“This is an awesome opportunity right now that we have because we want to expose as many players as we could to our group stage and how to navigate that,” said interim coach B.J. Callaghan, who is running things until Gregg Berhalter’s second term begins later this summer. “We have a week to get the mentality right on how we’re going to handle knockout games. We know the margins are super fine.”

It helps to have a striker in top form. Jesús Ferreira, a 22-year-old who started once at the World Cup, continued to feast on weak Concacaf opposition. In front of 40,243 at Bank of America Stadium, he scored three goals before halftime to become the first player in program history to record consecutive hat tricks.

“I know that if I think about scoring too much, that gets into my head,” said the FC Dallas standout, who has 14 goals in 21 U.S. appearances. “I just go out there and focus on what I can do and enjoy the game.”

Ferreira’s third career hat trick equaled Landon Donovan’s program record.

“When I see his movement and his confidence in the box, you can tell the game has slowed down for him and he’s just placing balls into the back of the net,” Callaghan said.

“A lot of people say it’s the hardest thing to do in soccer, to score a goal. I like to think it’s harder to save them or to be a goalkeeper in general,” Matt Turner, the U.S. keeper and captain, said with a smile. “But I’m so happy for Jesús.”

Cade Cowell, 19; Gianluca Busio, 21; and Brandon Vazquez, 24, scored in the second half as the United States matched its rout of St. Kitts and Nevis on Wednesday in St. Louis.

“We achieved our first objective, which is to finish top of the group,” Turner said. “We took care of business when we needed to [with] obviously a really young team and a bunch of guys who have never played together. You saw us grow.”

Group play has never been much of an obstacle for the United States: It has a 40-1-5 record, including 20-0-2 against Caribbean opposition. The only defeat came to Panama in 2011, a misstep on the way to being tournament runner-up to Mexico.

The Americans typically grow into this tournament, and after scoring a late equalizer in the 1-1 opener against Jamaica on June 24 in Chicago, they toyed with lesser foes. Since a 2017 away loss to Trinidad and Tobago cost it a 2018 World Cup berth, the United States has beaten the Soca Warriors three times by a 19-0 aggregate.

Ferreira opened the scoring Sunday in the 14th minute, capping an 11-pass sequence that began with a throw-in deep in the U.S. end. Exploiting space on the left flank, DeJuan Jones worked with Cristian Roldan. Jones crossed to Ferreira, who lifted the ball to himself and volleyed from eight yards.

In the 38th minute, Djordje Mihailovic led Alejandro Zendejas, who crossed to Ferreira at the back post. Ferreira’s initial touch slipped to goalkeeper Marvin Phillip, who failed to corral it. Ferreira pulled the ball away from the scrambling keeper and tagged a low shot that defender Sheldon Bateau deflected into the net.

In first-half stoppage time, after Alvin Jones tripped Mihailovic in the box, Ferreira deposited the penalty kick.

Cowell extended the lead in the 65th minute by pouncing on a woeful back pass and juking Phillip and a defender to record his first international goal. Fourteen minutes later, Busio scored his first by putting away Julian Gressel’s cross. Vazquez, a striker who is competing with Ferreira for playing time, came off the bench to add a stoppage-time goal.

Notes: Midfielder Alan Soñora (strained hamstring) will be replaced on the roster, Callaghan said. Miles Robinson, who played Sunday’s first half, and Jordan Morris, who did not play, are day-to-day with injuries and will be evaluated. Midfielder Aidan Morris was excused from camp for personal reasons. …

In his 30th appearance, Turner became the quickest U.S. goalie to earn a 20th shutout and a 20th victory.

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