Poor Mexico

USMNT Dumps El Tri Dos a Cero in Third Straight Win Over Archrival, Leaving No Doubt Who are the Kings of CONCACAF in 2021

CINCINNATI — Poor Mexico. The great soccer rival of the U.S. men’s national team came into the summer of 2021 riding a wave of success against Uncle Sam. Eight years had passed since Mexico’s last defeat in an official (non-friendly) competition against the United States. There was no doubt that El Tri had earned its place as the giant of CONCACAF. And then, in the span of five short months, the U.S. faced Mexico three times in competitive games—the Nations League final, the Gold Cup final and Friday’s World Cup qualifier—and won all three.

There’s a new colossus in CONCACAF, to say nothing of a new leader in the Octagonal: The USMNT. 

But this U.S. victory, the fifth Dos a Cero win in the last six World Cup qualifiers against Mexico held in Ohio, was different from the ones in the Nations League and Gold Cup. The home team, supported by a pro-U.S. crowd at the sparkling new TQL Stadium, thoroughly controlled the game. The U.S. outshot Mexico 18-8 and enjoyed an expected-goals advantage of 2.17-0.72. A defense anchored by Walker Zimmerman, Miles Robinson and goalkeeper Zack Steffen limited Mexico to few good scoring chances and 90 minutes of otherwise punchless Mexican frustration. 

Meanwhile, the U.S. shredded Mexico down the right side in the second half through DeAndre Yedlin and Tim Weah, whose pinpoint cross found second-half substitute Christian Pulisic for the 74th-minute game-winning header. 

“We’ve come a long way in the last couple of years,” Pulisic said afterward. “Mexico has always been a tough opponent for us, and to now win three in a row is obviously amazing. That doesn’t mean it’s time to be complacent and time to think we’re the best around. Now it’s focus on Jamaica [on Tuesday]. Just keep going. We want to continue to prove what this team is about and hopefully start to show the world what this national team is capable of.”

Pulisic celebrated his goal, the American star’s second straight game-winner against Mexico, by revealing a t-shirt that read MAN IN THE MIRROR—not a declaration of fandom for the Michael Jackson song, but rather a pointed response to Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, who’d said before the game: “Mexico is the mirror in which the United States wants to see itself.”

In the words of Michael Jordan, the USMNT took that personally. Weah said the night before the game that he and Yedlin asked the team’s kit men to prepare the t-shirt for Pulisic. “It’s just to send a message,” Weah explained afterward. “I think it’s a new era now. Before the game, Mexico was talking a lot of smack. And beating them just shuts them up, and we have to continue to beat them. That’s the only way we’re going to earn their respect and the world’s respect. But I think we’re on a great path right now, and the future is bright.”

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It was revealing that in their separate press conference appearances after the game, both coaches, Mexico’s Tata Martino and the U.S.’s Gregg Berhalter, used the word intensity in their first statements to describe the factor that made the difference in the game. For Martino, who now finds himself on thin ice following three straight losses to his team’s main rival, he’ll spend the trip to Edmonton for Tuesday’s game at Canada wondering why El Tri was strangely subdued against the Yanks. Yet Berhalter felt he knew why that was the case in the second half: The U.S. exhausted its opponent in the opening 45 minutes.

“We talked before the game about what we’re going to need to be successful,” Berhalter said, “and the starting point was intensity. We wanted to break the rhythm with our pressing and eventually wear them down. The first half in my opinion was an entertaining half. It was back and forth. Both teams were taking shots at each other, But the second half is where we started to pull away, particularly in the first 20 minutes when we just were going. And that’s the effect that we have on opponents when we can press them. We can be that aggressive around the ball, turning them around and making them face their own goal. It becomes really challenging.”

Weah, for his part, has responded to his disappointing play in last month’s loss to Panama with two straight signature games, firing the shot that ended up in the net for the decisive goal against Costa Rica and then torching the Mexican back line during the second half on Friday. Berhalter said Weah’s game relies on his confidence, which has been higher with the national team since meeting with Berhalter after the Panama game to go over the video of his performances.

[Walker] Zimmerman told me he’s the commissioner of a fantasy football league involving 10 USMNT players on both sides of the Atlantic. There are five head-to-head matchups every week, and Zimmerman makes like a sportswriter, penning amusing recaps for each one of them.

Once Pulisic entered the game in the 69th minute, Weah said he knew it could make a difference in the outcome of a game the U.S. was dominating despite the score still being 0-0.

“I’ve been playing with Christian for a while now, since I was 17,” Weah said. “I know that he’s our star player, and he’s always going to be in the right spots, and you just have to deliver the ball to him. When I received the ball from DeAndre, I took a quick glance and saw he was going to make the run in the box. Christian’s super-deadly with those runs in behind, so I knew I just had to put the ball in the right spot, and he was there to knock it in.”

Weston McKennie added a second goal in the 85th minute for the trademark scoreline, a deserving result for the performance that created it. Friday marked the third World Cup qualifier in which the U.S. has started a central midfield of Tyler Adams (22 years old), McKennie (23) and Yunus Musah (18). All three have been victories. The potential of the U.S.’s MMA midfield is intoxicating. This could be the trio that drives the U.S. in the center of the park through World Cup 2026 and beyond.

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