Christian Pulisic had a difficult night as he was denied twice by Guillermo Ochoa. (Keith Furman/FrontRowSoccer.com)
By Michael Lewis
A draw might have felt like a victory for the U.S. men’s national team on Thursday night.
The Americans managed to play their archrival Mexico even for the third time at Estadio Azteca en route to a scoreless tie in World Cup qualifying in Mexico City.
The result meant the USA (6-2-4, 22 points) remained in second in the Concacaf Octagonal, leading the Mexicans (6-2-4, 22) on goal differential (plus nine to plus six).
The USMNT also walked out of arguably the most difficult in Concacaf with a WCQ point in 2013 and 2017.
“I thought it was a good performance,” USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter said. “I think it was a good effort of the group. We dealt well with the conditions. The point will be a valuable point based on what happened today in the standings. I think the game was there for us to win and unfortunately didn’t get that goal.”
“It was a good effort of the group, we dealt well with the conditions, the point will be a valuable point…”@jennyachiu caught up with @USMNT coach Gregg Berhalter after the match. pic.twitter.com/uUShMPdV3E
— Watch Mexico vs. USA on Paramount+ (@CBSSportsGolazo) March 25, 2022
The Americans, who had won three consecutive times against El Tri since last summer, will host fifth-place Panama (5-4-3, 18) in a must-win situation in Orlando, Fla. on Sunday night. The top three teams will automatically qualify with the fourth-place side meeting the Oceania winner in a June playoff.
“We talked about coming in and being the first team to win,” Berhalter said. “So, we’re a little disappointed we didn’t do that. But you can’t fault the effort by the guys. We knew was going to be a game of having to dig in and deal with adversity and the guys did.”
There had been speculation that U.S. head coach Gregg Berhalter might want to save some of his top players for Panama. The Americans, however, started their A team.
Mexican goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was the star of the match, producing to vital saves to keep the USA off the scoreboard. He tipped away Yunus Musah’s 16-yard shot in the 14th minute, and then denied Christian Pulisic’s point-blank attempt with his chest in the 35th minute.
Pulisic fell into the goal as he slammed both his arms into the ground. It could have been frustration for missing such a close-range opportunity or that he was clipped by a Mexican player after he shot.
Ochoa stopped Pulisic again in the 49th minute, parrying away his shot for a corner kick.
“Part of soccer. That’s how it goes,” Berhalter said. “Another day we make those two goals and this game unfortunately didn’t. But again, proud of the effort of the group.”
American keeper Zack Steffen was tested only once, catching Cesar Montes’ header in the 14th minute.
Mexico picked up stream in the second half but could not place any dangerous shots on target.
The visitors came close again in the 72nd minute as second-half substitute Jordan Pefok, from point-blank range, knocked Gio Reyna’s right-side feed wide right.
The match was a costly one for the USA as two players – right back DeAndre Yedlin and forward Tim Weah – incurred their second yellow cards during qualifying, meaning they will miss the Panama game.
“We knew there was a risk when we started them, and fortunately bought a number of wingers into camp,” Berhalter said. “It’s next man up mentality. We’re going to be bringing another player to camp as well to fill the right back position.”
Berhalter said that player was Shaq Moore.
The Americans will close out the Concacaf Octagonal at Costa Rica on Wednesday, March 30.