• U.S. defender Kyle Duncan heads the ball while leaping over El Salvador midfielder Narciso Orellana during the second half of Wednesday’s international friendly in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  • U.S. midfielder Jackson Yueill (6) tries to shield El Salvador midfielder Darwin Ceren (7) from the ball during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  • Sebastian Lletget #17 of the United States scores a goal in the 23′ against El Salvador during the first half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • El Salvador goalkeeper Henry Hernandez is unable to stop a shot by U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget for a goal during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  • Sebastian Lletget #17 of the United States celebrates a goal in the 25′ against El Salvador at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • U.S. midfielder Sebastian Lletget (17) celebrates with Brenden Aaronson (8) and Paul Arriola after Lletget scored a goal against El Salvador during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  • Ayo Akinola #9 of the United States scores a goal in the 27′ against El Salvador at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • U.S. forward Ayo Akinola, on ground, scores a goal against El Salvador during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  • Paul Arriola #7 of the United States celebrates with Ayo Akinola #9 after scoring a goal in the 17′ against El Salvador during the first half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • El Salvador forward Enrico Hernandez (17) and U.S. forward Chris Mueller (11) vie for the ball Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, during the first half of an international soccer friendly match in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  • Chris Mueller #11 of the United States runs with the ball against El Salvador during the first half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • El Salvador midfielder Denis Pineda (8) and U.S. defender Aaron Long, rear, vie for the ball during the second half of an international friendly soccer match Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  • El Salvador defender Bryan Tamacas (21) goes down as he and U.S. defender Marco Farfan (15) battled for the ball during the second half of an international friendly soccer match Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  • U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter looks on during his team’s 6-0 exhibition victory over El Salvador on Wednesday night in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • U.S. defender Julian Araujo, rear, attempts to steal the ball from El Salvador defender Andres Flores (14) during the second half of an international friendly soccer match Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

  • Ayo Akinola #9 of the United States and Narciso Orellana #6 of El Salvador battle for control of the ball during the second half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • U.S. forward Chris Mueller, left, celebrates with Sebastian Lletget after scoring a goal in the 25th minute of Wednesday’s 6-0 rout of El Salvador in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Mueller had two goals and two assists in his international debut and Lletget had a goal and an assist. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • Chris Mueller #11 of the United States celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal in the 25′ against El Salvador during the first half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • Kyle Duncan #16 of the United States and Narciso Orellana #6 of El Salvador battle for a header during the second half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • Sebastian Lletget #17 of the United States runs with the ball against El Salvador during the first half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • Ivan Mancia #4 of El Salvador clears a header against the United States during the first half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • Paul Arriola #7 of the United States and Jonathan Jimenez #15 of El Salvador battle for the ball during the first half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • Sebastian Lletget #17 of the United States and Narciso Orellana #6 of El Salvador battle for control of the ball during the first half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • Marco Farfan #15 of the United States runs with the ball against El Salvador during the second half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • Sebastian Lletget #17 of the United States takes a shot on goal against El Salvador during the second half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • Paul Arriola #7 of the United States and Darwin Ceren #7 of El Salvador battle for control of the ball during the first half at Inter Miami CF Stadium on December 09, 2020 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • El Salvador goalkeeper Henry Hernandez shows his frustration after a 6-0 exhibition loss to the United States on Wednesday night in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

  • The U.S. men’s soccer team celebrates after defeating El Salvador, 6-0, in an exhibition match on Wednesday night in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The U.S. soccer team ended a pandemic-shortened year with a blowout that raised confidence heading into a busy 2021 highlighted by the first eight World Cup qualifiers jammed into an 11-week span.

Chris Mueller had two goals and two assists in his international debut, Ayo Akinola scored a goal in his first game and the United States overwhelmed El Salvador, 6-0, in an exhibition Wednesday night.

Paul Arriola scored in his first start for club or country since tearing his right Achilles tendon in D.C. United’s preseason match on Feb. 15. Brenden Aaronson, playing his second international game following his debut against Costa Rica in February, got his first goal and assist, and L.A. Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget scored his fourth goal in 17 international appearances and added an assist.

“The killer instinct is a great step for us” Arriola said. “This could be World Cup qualifying. and I think we need to just be able to execute and be ready and not take our foot off the pedal. I think it’s going to be a great year for us next year.”

Before a limited crowd of about 2,500 in the Americans’ first match in front of fans since the pandemic began, Bill Hamid got the shutout in his first international start since a 2-1 loss at Ireland in June of 2018.

Ranked No. 22, the U.S. used a lineup mostly from eliminated MLS teams and had wide stretches of open space against 70th-ranked El Salvador in a match played outside the FIFA calendar and without top stars. Coming off a 6-2 victory over Panama, the Americans scored a half-dozen goals in consecutive games for the first time since 2013 against Guatemala and Belize.

“That’s the type of football we want to play. And we showed that we can do it,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Guys are pushing, people are saying if we have a top group, I want to be part of it.”

The U.S.. was unbeaten with three wins and one draw in 2020, its fewest games in a year since playing three in 1987.

Next year includes a pair of a January exhibition with domestic players, March friendlies likely in Europe, a CONCACAF Nations League semifinal against Honduras in June followed by a matchup with the Mexico-Costa Rica winner, the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July with a roster probably missing top players and the start of World Cup qualifying in September. There also is the possibility of the Americans’ first Olympic appearance since 2008.

During a break in training on Tuesday, the players watched a Champions League match that featured Barcelona defender Sergiño Dest and a goal by Juventus midfielder Weston McKennie.

“I think it’s an amazing thing right now that you can sit down and watch two of the biggest clubs in the world and see two American players,” said Mueller, a 24-year-old with Orlando who is three years removed from college soccer at Wisconsin. “You could see the strength in the group, a group that can potentially compete for a World Cup in 2022 and in 2026.”

Manchester City goalkeeper Zack Steffen became the record ninth American in the Champions League this season, shutting out Marseille, 3-0, on Wednesday.

“I know all those guys are thinking, ‘That’s where I want to be,” Berhalter said.

Right back Julian Araujo also started in his debut, and defenders Marco Farfan and Kyle Duncan debuted as second-half substitutes. Fifty-seven players have debuted since the October 2017 loss at Trinidad and Tobago that prevented the Americans from playing in the 2018 World Cup, including 34 since Berhalter became coach ahead of 2019.

The U.S. lineup averaged 24 years and nine international appearances.

Arriola had played once since his injury, 21 minutes as a sub for D.C. United on Nov. 8, before he put the U.S. ahead 17 minutes in with his sixth international goal on a 12-yard, left-footed shot off a pass from Mueller.

Mueller doubled the lead in the 20th with a 15-yard, right-footed shot following a pass from Jackson Yueill and again in the 25th with a 6-yard diving header off Araujo’s cross.

Lletget scored with an 18-yard chip in the 23rd that deflected off Roberto Dominguez. Akinola, also eligible to play for Canada and Nigeria, made it 5-0 in the 27th with a sliding shot from near the penalty spot off a pass from Mueller.

Aaronson got the lone goal of the second half in the 50th with a 12-yard, right-footed shot from Lletget’s pass.

“None of these results are going to help us in 2021,” Berhalter cautioned. “2021 is a different game.”

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By Richard Moran

Richard Moran loves to write about sports with the Golden State Online. Before that, he worked as a senior writer at ESPN. Richard grew up in San Diego and graduated from the University of San Diego in 2004, after which he worked as an editor for five years.

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