Mexico wins to set up probable U.S. match in qualifying semifinal


Mexico won the battle Sunday. But it may have set itself up to the lose the war.

With Alan Pulido scoring three times, Mexico beat Honduras, 3-0, in the second game of a CONCACAF Olympic qualifying doubleheader, played before a soggy Home Depot Center announced crowd of 16,184.

That’s a good thing.

With two victories in pool play and only winless Panama remaining on its schedule, Mexico is all but certain to advance to Saturday’s tournament semifinal in Kansas City as the group champion.

And that could be a bad thing.

As the top team in Group A, Mexico’s probable semifinal opponent will be the U.S., provided the Americans can avoid a slip-up against El Salvador on Monday to finish second in Group B. The two regional powers — heavy co-favorites in the tournament — weren’t supposed to meet until the CONCACAF final, by which time both would have qualified for the London Games by virtue of victories in the semifinals.

That plan was spoiled when Canada stunned the U.S. on Saturday, all but clinching the Group A title and setting up the possibility of a Mexico-U.S. match with an Olympic berth on the line. Not the ideal outcome, perhaps, but one Mexico isn’t shying away from.

“The team played well today,” Mexico Coach Luis Fernando Tena said. “But we’re very aware that doesn’t mean anything if we don’t win in the semifinals. We all know that’s the most important game.”

The last time the U.S. and Mexico met, in a CONCACAF tune-up last month, the U.S. won. But the Mexican team that played in that game wasn’t nearly as sharp as the one that has displayed blinding speed while scoring 10 times in two games in this tournament.

Four of those goals belong to Pulido, who started Sunday’s rout in the 13th minute, taking a pass from Cruz Azul midfielder Javier Aquino just inside the penalty area on the right wing and firing a right-footed shot into the net at the far side.

Just after the intermission, Aquino set Pulido up again, outrunning Honduras’ Ever Alvarado for more than 40 yards down the right side before centering the ball to the Tigres’ striker, who turned it into an easy goal.

Pulido’s other goal came just before halftime when he converted a pass from Chivas playmaker Marco Fabian. And he could have had another score but his wide-open shot in the 56th minute slipped just over the crossbar.

Despite the loss, Honduras can still advance to the semifinals with a win over Trinidad and Tobago on the final day of group play Tuesday. In Sunday’s first game, Trinidad’s Shahdon Winchester’s score deep in stoppage time earned it a rainy 1-1 tie with Panama.

Cecilio Waterman’s goal in the 68th minute gave Panama the lead, but Trinidad, playing with urgency in the final minutes, got the equalizer after Kevin Molino’s shot ricocheted off Panama’s Rolando Algandona to Winchester, who buried his shot into the open net near the left post.