U.S. plays to 0-0 draw with Mexico, moves closer to qualifying for World Cup
Estadio Azteca rises like a concrete-and-steel citadel from the crowded, dusty boulevards of Mexico’s Santa Úrsula neighborhood. For more than four decades that fortress has been nearly impenetrable, with the country’s national soccer team losing just two competitive matches inside its walls.
But it felt different during Thursday’s World Cup qualifier with the U.S., a game that ended in a 0-0 tie. Gone was the fearsome, intimidating Azteca, where opponents’ World Cup dreams have long gone to die.
Instead, the U.S. was able to emerge with a point it needed in a tight CONCACAF qualifying tournament, with the four teams competing for the final two World Cup spots separated by four points with two games to play.
“It was a good effort,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “It’s a valuable point on the road.
Photos from a CONCACAF World Cup qualifying match between the U.S. men’s national soccer team and Mexico at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
“We’re getting close.”
Added midfielder Kellyn Acosta: “A hard-earned point.”
Thursday’s result, though not the win the U.S. wanted, did run its unbeaten streak against Mexico to four games and left it second to Canada in the eight-team qualifying table. The U.S. leads Mexico on goal differential and is three points up on fourth-place Costa Rica (5-3-4).
Both the U.S. (6-2-4) and Mexico (6-2-4) can move a big step closer to reserving their spots in Qatar with victories Sunday, the Americans against Panama (5-4-3) in Orlando, Fla., and Mexico in Honduras (0-8-4).
But the U.S. will go into Sunday short-handed after defender DeAndre Yedlin and forward Tim Weah picked up yellow cards in the first half, leaving them suspended for the Panama game. The U.S. was already missing four starters to injury, then lost defender Reggie Cannon when he tested positive for COVID-19 this week.
“It’s next-man up mentality,” said Berhalter, who will be adding right back Shaq Moore to the roster for Sunday. “We’re going to put a team on the field that will compete.”
With a late-night kickoff, the sweltering weather that melted past invaders to Azteca gave way to temperatures in the 60s and a slight breeze. And because of sanctions leveled over Mexican fans’ continued used of an anti-gay chant, more than half of the stadium’s 84,000 seats were vacant, leaving the upper deck mostly empty and quiet.
Where Azteca once roared, Thursday it emitted barely a whimper, leaving it to the PA announcer to repeatedly urge the fans to make noise.
In Mexico. During a World Cup qualifier.
Thursday’s game was one neither team could afford to lose, and for much of the night both teams played that way, going forward cautiously and in quick spurts, careful not to leave themselves exposed at the other end.
The best U.S. scoring chance of the first half came in the 35th minute, when Christian Pulisic broke into the box alone at the left post, only to put his left-footed shot right at keeper Guillermo Ochoa.
For Pulisic, who scored in each of his last two games with Mexico, it was a golden opportunity that he didn’t put away and it proved costly because the U.S. never came closer — although an adroit dribbling display from Gio Reyna on a long cutback run in the 72nd minute set up Jordan Pefok on the doorstep. But Pefok’s left-footed shot from deep in the box went wide.
“A positive disappointment,” Berhalter said of the result, knowing how close the U.S. came to getting its first win in a competitive game in Mexico.
“I think the game was there for us to win and unfortunately we didn’t get that goal.”
Mexico attacked with vigor late and was rewarded with the most dangerous of its two shots on goal in the 60th minute, when Hirving Lozano tested U.S. goalkeeper Zack Steffen with a right-footed shot from outside the box that Steffen stopped.
Mexico also unsuccessfully argued for two penalty calls after players were taken down in the box in the second half.
By then the U.S. was hanging on by its fingernails because while the noise and heat of a typical Azteca game was missing, the 7,200-foot altitude wasn’t. And the thin air announced its presence with authority midway through the second half, leaving players on both sides stumbling to the finish.
“We dealt well with the conditions,” Berhalter said.
Now the Americans go to Orlando where the home-field advantage will be theirs.
Bitter rivals U.S. and Mexico soccer face off at Estadio Azteca on Thursday, with a World Cup berth and Tata Martino’s job on the line.