MEXICO CITY – Four just the fourth time in its history, the U.S. men’s national team tied archrival Mexico at Estadio Azteca
In the scoreless draw, the USMNT carried out its intent to play for a win Thursday, despite playing at 7,200 feet in elevation. The Americans squandered two golden scoring opportunities that kept them from earning their first World Cup qualifying win on Mexican soil. With an exhausting 90 minutes of running aside, the U.S. kept itself on track to clinching a World Cup berth with a scoreless draw.
The U.S. (6-2-4, 22 points) remains level with Mexico on points, but keep its second-place position in the CONCACAF standings due to goal differential. It now looks ahead to a qualifier against Panama on Sunday in Orlando at Exploria Stadium, where its won all four of its matches. Fortunately for the U.S., Honduras tied with Panama on Thursday, 1-1, to keep them at bay.
In a nutshell, coach Gregg Berhalter described the team’s morale as “positively disappointed.”
“The group is jazzed. They’re psyched,” Berhalter said. “It was a good performance. We wanted to be the first team to beat Mexico at Azteca and we fell a little bit short. But the mood’s not down. Not at all. It’s the opposite. We know we’re going home…”
Here are a few observations from the match.
Lacking atmosphere opens door for U.S.
Thirty minutes before kickoff at the Azteca, about 200 security officials decked in lime green jackets populated the stadium more than fans did. The prideful chants for Mexico were non-existent. Fans densely populated the sections behind each goal, but grew thin on each sideline.
The expectation going into Thursday was a crowd of 50,000. According to ESPN, there was about 26,000 at the game – a World Cup Qualifier between two fierce rivals at an 87,000-seat stadium. Jeers and gasps came, respectively, when the U.S. was in possession or when Mexico had created one of its nine scoring chances. But the U.S. stuck through it and is now one-richer.
“When I think about each and every player leaving every bit of energy out there on the field, it was an extremely good effort by the group,” Berhalter said. “It gave us a valuable point on the road which sets us up well in the standings.”
Pulisic, Pefok miss scoring chances
USMNT winger Tim Weah had Mexico’s Gerardo Arteaga beat, dribbling down the right wing at pace in the 35th minute. He crossed the ball low to Christian Pulisic in the penalty area. The pass was too far from goal for goalkeeper Memo Ochoa to pursuit and too fast for a trailing center back Johan Vasquez to make a recovery.
Pulisic chose to aim for the center with a left-footed shot, but before Ochoa was able to fully extend towards his right, where he expected Pulisic to shoot, the ball hit Ochoa in the chest and collected it for the save. The two collided and Pulisic fell to the turf, pounding the ground in frustration.
“I’m disappointed, I missed a chance and would’ve loved to have won the game,” Pulisic said. “…I thought we had the bigger chances in the game. We did have control for big spurts of the game. But I think it’s a game that could’ve gone either way.”
U.S. defied altitude only for a moment
The altitude’s effect on the U.S. was visible around the 30th minute.
Right back DeAndre Yedlin has just picked up a yellow card for a bruising tackle on Mexico’s Edson Álvarez. What ensued were foul total fouls committed in the span of five minutes and in between stoppage of play, Tyler Adams, Yunus Musah and Christian Pulisic put their hands on their knees to catch their breath.
But U.S. players didn’t fully succumb to the thin air’s effect. Pulisic and Pefok’s chances to score came from quick transitions, unleashing full on sprints from everyone but its center backs.
Berhalter used all five of his substitutions, which included relieving captain midfielder Tyler Adams, who’s played 90 minutes in all but one qualifier he’s started in.
“I think, looking at the game, the players dealt well with the conditions – hostile crowd, altitude and they powered through that,” Berhalter said.
For stories about Nashville SC or Soccer in Tennessee, contact Drake Hills at DHills@gannett.com. Follow Drake on Twitter at @LiveLifeDrake. Connect with Drake on Instagram at @drakehillssoccer and on Facebook.