MEXICO CITY — It didn’t get the historic win it was looking for, but the United States national team picked up an important point at the Estadio Azteca, taking a significant step toward World Cup qualification in a 0-0 draw with Mexico.
It could have been even better.
The U.S. had the game’s two best chances, but Christian Pulisic and Jordan Pefok both missed from close range, either of which might have resulted in the team’s first ever win at the Estadio Azteca in World Cup qualifying.
“We put ourselves in a position to play on Sunday and win and go to the World Cup,” Pulisic said afterward. “But of course I’m disappointed I missed a chance, and I would have loved to have won the game.
“I think it’s a game that could’ve gone either way. I thought we had the better offensive chances and we had good spells, but a draw is fair.”
After talk about possibly rotating the side with an eye toward Sunday’s pivotal game against Panama, U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter selected what appeared to be a first-choice lineup.
“We wanted to put a team on the field that could win the game in Azteca,” Berhalter said. “That was the most important thing. There’s plenty of time to recover.”
Despite the underwhelming and scoreless draw at home, Mexico manager Gerardo “Tata'” Martino appeared content with the result.
“We competed well with the United States,” Martino said. “Today we seeked to equal the rhythm of the game during the 90 minutes.”
The job was done, to an extent, but questions remained about not only the team’s defensive worries that allowed the USMNT to test goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, but also Mexico’s inefficiencies up front in the attack.
“We’ve lost that calm in the last 25 meters of the field. Not only during the times when we need to score a goal, but also when needing to make that pass,” Martino said. “It’s clear that it’s a subject that we need to restore.”
Giovanni Reyna, the 19-year-old USMNT midfielder who had missed 10 straight qualifiers with a strained hamstring, had a highlight-reel moment when he dribbled half the length of the field in the 77th minute, starting about 10 yards from his own penalty area and glided past several Mexico defenders before Johan Vasquez knocked the ball away.
Berhalter thought of Diego Maradona’s second goal against England in a 1986 World Cup quarterfinal played on the same field.
“I had visions of that when Gio was dribbling,” Berhalter said. “Unfortunately, he didn’t finish it off.”
Reyna blushed when told of Berhalter’s remark.
“It was a nice run,” he said. “It didn’t really amount to anything.”
With two games left, the United States and Mexico are tied for second place, with the U.S. ahead ahead on goal differential (plus-9 to plus-6). Both countries sit three back of Canada, which lost 1-0 at Costa Rica.
The Ticos’ win over the Canadians allowed them to jump Panama into fourth place and move to within three points of the U.S. and Mexico.
If the United States wins against Panama, it would all but clinch a spot in the World Cup prior to its trip to Costa Rica next week. In that case, if Costa Rica wins against El Salvador, it would remain mathematically able to pass the United States, however the current gap in goal differential (Costa Rica is plus-2) would be difficult to overcome.
If the United States loses to Panama, all bets are off.
Prior to the game, U.S. Soccer announced right back Reggie Cannon tested positive for COVID-19 and was unavailable. It was already a position where the team was light on depth — starter Sergino Dest wasn’t called in due to injury — and the issue was compounded further when DeAndre Yedlin picked up a yellow card against Mexico, rendering him unavailable against Panama.
Shaq Moore will be added to the roster and is already in Orlando, Berhalter said.
Forward Timothy Weah will also not be available to play against Panama due to yellow card accumulation.
ESPN reporter Cesar Hernandez contributed to this report.