San Francisco (AFP) - Clint Dempsey made a fairy tale return to international duty with a hat-trick as the United States reignited their 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign with a 6-0 thrashing of Honduras on Friday.
Dempsey, playing his first international since recovering from a heart problem that forced a six-month lay off, scored goals in each half as the Americans romped to a crucial victory at San Jose's Avaya Stadium.
"It was all about the team," Dempsey said afterwards. "We came out and played well. We started on the front foot and took the game to our opponents and when we got chances, we put them in the back of the net."
The US had suffered back-to-back defeats in their opening two games of CONCACAF's final qualifying round in November, losses that led to the sacking of Jurgen Klinsmann and the reappointment of veteran coach Bruce Arena.
Arena had warned his players that nothing less than three points would do against the Hondurans and the Americans did not disappoint, producing a dominant display against the Central Americans.
Though Dempsey grabbed the headlines with his hat-trick, Borussia Dortmund teenager Christian Pulisic was the heartbeat of a scintillating US performance, scoring one goal and creating three others during the rout.
"What he can do is beat a man one-on-one and that creates a difference for us and gives us options," Dempsey said of the 18-year-old Pulisic. "I thought he was great for us."
Los Angeles Galaxy forward Sebastian Lletget and US captain Michael Bradley scored the other American goals on a night when almost everything went right for the hosts.
The US effectively sealed victory with a devastating first half-hour which saw the home side race into a 3-0 lead.
Lletget opened the scoring after only five minutes, tucking away the rebound after Honduras goalkeeper Donis Escober was unable to grasp Pulisic's low shot.
Lletget's maiden World Cup goal was soured by his exit barely 10 minutes later when he limped off injured following a rugged tackle from Ever Alvarado that earned the Honduras defender a caution.
In the 27th minute the US doubled their lead when Bradley skipped clear of the Honduras defence before aiming an angled shot into the bottom corner for his 16th international goal on his 129th appearance.
Five minutes later and it was 3-0, with Pulisic once again the provider after lofting an exquisite pass into the path of Dempsey who held off his marker to shoot high into the roof of the net.
It got better for the hosts barely 15 seconds into the second half, when Pulisic added the fourth after being played into space by Jozy Altidore.
Three minutes later and it was 5-0, with Pulisic threading a sublime pass through to Dempsey who calmly claimed his second goal.
Dempsey completed his hat-trick on 54 minutes, making it 6-0 with a wonderful curling free-kick from the right-hand edge of the area.
The win helped the US climb off the bottom of the group into fourth place in the six-team standings with three points.
The US face a trip to Panama, beaten 1-0 by Trinidad and Tobago earlier Friday, in their next game.
"It's a good start towards working our way back into a good spot," US captain Bradley said. "We'll take it for what it is - three points."
Mexico moved to the top of the qualification standings with a 2-0 defeat of Costa Rica. Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored the goals for Mexico, who lead with seven points from three games.
The top three finishers in the six-team "Hexagonal" qualifying competition qualify automatically for next year's Finals in Russia.
The fourth placed team faces a play-off against a side from Asia.