If anyone questioned whether Orlando City forward Chris Mueller deserved a shot at the United States Men’s National Team, those questions should now be definitively answered after a 6-0 win over El Salvador at Inter Miami CF Stadium. Sure, El Salvador wasn’t the best possible opponent, but Mueller absolutely went off, scoring two goals and adding one assist (officially) in his first half hour with the USMNT and it could have been more had Sebastian Lletget crossed for him at the left post rather than chipping the goalkeeper for a goal of his own or had Paul Arriola not gone for goal in the 35th minute with — again — an unmarked Mueller to the left.
The USMNT finished 2020 on a high note, beating consecutive Concacaf opponents — Panama and El Salvador — by a combined 12-2.
“Chris gave us exactly what we wanted from him,” USMNT Head Coach Gregg Berhalter said after the match. “I talked to him before the game I said just be you, you know, be Chris Mueller. We watched you all season long, and this is what we want you to bring to the team. And that’s what he did bring — that energy, that relentlessness, that continuing to go and continuing to push. You see good things happen when you play like that and so I was really pleased with Chris.”
“We’ll see what happens from here,” Mueller said after his performance. “Obviously it’s my first step. I played one game and we obviously got a good win and, and let’s just keep moving, let’s keep seeing what happens, you know?”
Mueller’s big night began simply by being in the starting XI at kickoff, but it really got going in the 17th minute. Mueller dribbled into the area from the left, then had to flick the ball over a sliding defender before crossing to his right for Arriola to finish, putting the U.S. on the board. The ball took a touch off a defender, so Mueller wasn’t officially given an assist on the play.
Three minutes later, Mueller scored his first international goal. Mueller’s flick sent Lletget down the left. Lletget crossed for Ayo Akinola, who had his point-blank shot saved. Jackson Yueill picked up the rebound and fed Mueller, who moved right to clear traffic and fired home to make it 2-0 in the 20th minute.
In the 23rd minute, Mueller was open to Lletget’s left on a 2-v-1 break but the Galaxy attacker chipped the keeper to make it 3-0 rather than slot a pass over for Mueller to tap in. Look how open Mueller is on the left side in this clip.
Mueller had his brace two minutes later. From an offside position, he got himself back onside, then burned the defense to get onto the end of a cross and headed inside the near post to make it 4-0.
“It was definitely an emotional day. Obviously scoring the goals felt great to help the team and to see us win in the way we did, when we dominated, I think it was fantastic,” Mueller said.
Mueller wasn’t done. Presented with a golden opportunity to complete his hat trick in the 27th minute, Cash crossed unselfishly to set up an Akinola goal and the Yanks led 5-0. This time, the assist was his on the official score sheet.
Lletget fired a shot on a similar 2-v-1 to the one Arriola had scored on earlier, again denying Mueller a shot at an easy goal. Mueller got an opportunity to complete his hat trick but El Salvador goalkeeper Henry Hernandez made a spectacular diving save in the 44th minute to prevent it.
Mueller’s first half was so dominant that El Salvador swapped out right backs in the first half. It was an incredible performance in the opening 45 minutes from Orlando City’s rising star.
The second half started with Mueller again involved in a goal. This time he didn’t score it or get the assist, but Mueller released Lletget down the left and Brenden Aaronson finished the subsequent cross, which would have earned Mueller a secondary assist had it been an MLS match. The U.S. lead grew to 6-0 in the 50th minute as a result.
El Salvador started hacking Mueller a bit in the second half and the game’s first yellow card was issued to defender Roberto Dominguez for kicking Mueller in the back of the leg. He also drew a free kick just outside the area late in the game.
Although Mueller didn’t complete his hat trick, it was a comprehensive performance and Mueller is sure to have left an impression on Berhalter for his 90 minutes in Fort Lauderdale.
“I think we still need to be cautious and careful a little bit. You know, one game I think isn’t going to put a guy in or put a guy out [of the national team picture] either way,” Berhalter said after Mueller’s performance. “But it’s a step for Chris, and it was an important step and, you know, I’m really proud of the work he’s done to get himself to this point. He definitely helped himself this week and, you know, it was great for us to finally work with him and get to know him. He’s a great kid and I can see why Oscar [Pareja] really likes him.”
After a showing like that, it was no surprise that Mueller was named Man of the Match. Regardless of the opponent or the situation, it was a dream debut for Orlando City’s No. 9.