For the third time this year Concacaf’s fiercest rivals faced each other. On Friday night in Cincinnati the stakes were at their highest, with crucial World Cup qualifying points on the line. And, as ever when the two neighbors meet, so was pride, dignity, and the future of both teams.
For an hour before kickoff on a frigid November night, the rain poured down. Fans in the sold-out stadium chanted “U-S-A” and “Mex-i-co” back and forth. Fireworks marked the start. The teams took to the field in a familiar formation: 4-3-3 on either side.
Mexico had experience, an aging staff and a formidable front line. The US had two 18-year olds, potential, athleticism and speed.
Mexico dominated possession in the opening minutes of the first-half, and their pass completion eclipsed that of the United States. As the clock ticked toward half-time, the US fought their way to parity in possession. They also took more shots, and created far more chances.
But for all the improvements, they couldn’t finish their chances. They didn’t capitalize on the set-pieces they won, many of which were thanks to Timothy Weah and Yunus Musah moving the ball forward from the right. Meanwhile, Mexico’s threatening forward line poked holes in the US defense. Zack Steffen, starting in goal over Matt Turner, needed to be at his best and came up huge with a pair of big saves.
In the second-half, the USA had the possession and momentum. The match became scrappier, and the fouls and shoving that are often a defining characteristic of this rivalry started to break out.
Intensity reached a fever pitch just past the 60th minute when Brenden Aaronson was flattened. A scuffle ensued and Steffen, Weston McKennie and Luis Rodriguez were booked as a result. Aaronson was soon subbed off and replaced by Christian Pulisic, who ran on the field to the uproarious approval of a fanbase that hadn’t seen their star since his injury in the September qualifiers.
Within five minutes of his introduction, Pulisic provided the answer to his team’s inability to finish chances. A beautiful run and well-timed cross from Weah found Pulisic in front of goal and he knocked home the header. The decibels from the home crowd increased and the US upped their tempo. Eleven minutes later, McKennie’s cool finish ended Mexico’s hopes of a comeback. The crowd sang out the familiar Dos A Cero chant, a long-time fixture of this rivalry – and World Cup qualifiers in Ohio.
It was a deserved victory for Gregg Berhalter’s team. They ended the match with 18 shots to Mexico’s eight. They also created more chances, won more challenges and again strengthened the argument that the US are the superior footballing nation of the two at the moment. The one blemish for the USMNT came when Miles Robinson was sent off after a second booking in the final minutes. Both he and McKennie will now miss Tuesday’s qualifier against Jamaica through suspension, the latter’s coming after picking up his second booking of the qualifiers.
Mexico, meanwhile, have questions to answer, and have lost all three of their matches against the United States in 2021. The Americans’ victory put them top of the Concacaf qualifying table – both the US and Mexico have 14 points from seven games, but the USMNT lead due to their superior head-to-head record. Canada occupy the third automatic qualifying spot after they beat Costa Rica on Friday night.
The US can now head to Kingston for Tuesday’s match with heads high and their tickets to Qatar looking ever more secure.