Trinidad & Tobago's Kevin Molino (#10) celebrates with teammates after scoring against visiting Panama in a World Cup qualifier on March 24, 2017. (Photo: CA-Images)
MIAMI – The final round of CONCACAF qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup burst into life Friday night as matchday three produced a trio of compelling games.
In addition to outstanding team performances, some of CONCACAF’s greatest stars stood up and were counted.
CONCACAF.com takes a look at the competitors who made the biggest and best impacts:
Clint Dempsey (USA)
Last August, Dempsey was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and was out of action for club and country until February 4, when he took the field in a preseason friendly for the Seattle Sounders in a 1-1 draw. Knowing his team could possibly use an offensive spark, United States head coach Bruce Arena called up the 34-year-old striker for crucial matchday three and four encounters in the CONCACAF Hexagonal. With Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris ruled out of Friday’s game against visiting Honduras, Arena turned to Dempsey. The veteran responded magically, scoring three goals in a stunning 6-0 win.
Javier Hernandez (Mexico)
Still only 28-years-old, the idea of Javier Hernandez closing in Mexico’s all-time scoring record seems almost unfathomable. Yet, entering Friday’s qualifier against visiting Costa Rica, the Bayer Leverkusen star was one goal short of Jared Borgetti’s record of 46. Hernandez has netted only once in Russia 2018 qualifying, hitting the back of the net in a 3-0 win at Canada on March 25, 2016. That total was doubled -- and Borgetti’s mark equaled -- in the seventh minute, when Carlos Vela delivered a splendid pass for Hernandez, who was racing through the left side of the box. The Bayer Leverkusen star lifted the ball slightly over low-charging goalkeeper Keylor Navas from 12-yards out and into the back of the net.
Kevin Molino (Trinidad & Tobago)
Without any points through two Hexagonal outings and a new manager (Dennis Lawrence) making his competitive debut, host Trinidad & Tobago was looking for a hero. It found one in attacker Kevin Molino. Taking advantage of Panama central defender Ramon Torres being off the field at the time, the Minnesota United standout received the ball and dribbled towards the goal. From 22-yards-out, without hesitation, Molino snapped off a low, right-footed shot that beat goalkeeper Jaime Penedo at the left post for the game’s only goal.
Christian Pulisic (USA)
Thanks to a maestro-like performance from midfield, Christian Pulisic was critical to the United States’ 6-0 win over visiting Honduras. The 18-year-old scored once, registered two assists and saw his fifth-minute shot lead to the opening goal. Pulisic set-up Dempsey strikes in the 32nd and 49th minutes, expertly chipping on the former and delivering a through ball for the latter. He netted his third qualifying goal with a cool finish inside the lower-right corner 12 seconds after the second-half kickoff.
Carlos Vela (Mexico)
Mexico scored two goals in its 2-0 win over visiting Costa Rica and Carlos Vela assisted on both. The Mexicans went ahead 1-0 in the seventh minute as Vela slipped a splendid pass for a racing Hernandez to lift slightly over goalkeeper Keylor Navas. In the 45th minute, the Real Sociedad star once again provided the service, delivering an in-swinging corner kick from the right to far post, where Nestor Araujo beat Navas with a low-aimed header.