USMNT World Cup draw in Mexico positive, but missed chances in Azteca could still prove costly

MEXICO CITY — There are too many times the United States Men’s National Team has come out of the Estadio Azteca in a frenzy, on the wrong side of a score, to count. Usually, it was because the visitors had been subjected to death by 1,000 passes, no game for Mexico’s methodical possession game, and taunted by the “Hey!” calls from the crowd. And, on the rare occasions that the United States left Mexico with a draw, it was with the feeling that they had survived rather than thrived.

On Thursday, Team USA’s 0-0 draw came from a much different place. It was the visitors who carved out the best chances at the Azteca, especially in the first half. It was Mexico who rode the hot hands of a goalkeeper, in this case Memo Ochoa, to survive. Mexico’s xG of 0.55 was their lowest in their 2022 World Cup qualifying matches.

Yes, USA limped across the finish line, taking a one-size-fits-all approach to passing in the final 15 minutes. Manager Gregg Berhalter launched just about every available defender he had – Erik Palmer-Brown and Aaron Long both earned their first appearances in a World Cup qualifier. It was enough for the United States to secure a valuable point on the road.

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It is therefore difficult to know exactly what we think of the result and its impact on the standings for the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers. Heading into that meeting window, four points seemed enough to take the United States to Qatar. This result puts the Berhalter team in a good position to achieve this goal. That he did so while missing a quartet of important players in Weston McKennie, Brenden Aaronson, Matt Turner and Sergino Dest added to the good vibes at the final whistle.

Yet this sense of accomplishment has been side by side with disappointment, and for multiple reasons. It was one of those CONCACAF World Cup qualifying nights that delivered a gift in the form of a 1-1 draw between Panama and Honduras down the table. A victory for the United States over the Canaleros in Orlando on Sunday and the United States can reach their four-point target and stop worrying about Panama edging them a World Cup berth like they did four years ago.

But here is Costa Rica. The United States did not get the necessary help from Canada, The Ticos winner 1-0. Now Costa Rica have slipped within three points of the United States and Mexico. There’s a chance that the USA’s last day game in San Jose against the Ticos will still make sense. A win on Thursday would have kept them at bay. Perhaps that’s why Berhalter called Thursday’s result a “positive disappointment”, although for the players he moved away from the former rather than the latter.

“The band is jazzed up, they’re excited,” Berhalter said. “We wanted to be the first [U.S.] team to beat Mexico at the Azteca. We’re a bit short, but the mood isn’t down, not at all. It’s the contrary.”

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Should the USMNT be disappointed with the goalless draw against Mexico in their CONCACAF World Cup qualifier?

Maybe down the road, Team USA’s collective thoughts will drift to the chances they failed to convert and the two points that were left on the table. Yunus Musah’s drive in the 13th minute forced Ochoa into a dive. No shame there. But Christian Pulisic fended off a glorious chance in the 35th minute, managing to hit his straight shot over Ochoa after good approach work from Kellyn Acosta.

An even more glorious opportunity presented itself in the second half, with Gio Reyna appearing to give fellow substitute Jordan Pefok a boost for a wide-open chance, only for the Young Boys striker to make a better clearance than a attempt on goal, all from a mere 8 yards. Mexico was not without luck either. The United States will be grateful that SortingThe attackers either missed the target or hit goalkeeper Zack Steffen directly.

Either way, the opportunity facing the United States now is somewhat similar to the one it faced over four years ago. Two games to play and the fate of the American team in his hands. The game at home against Panama is quite the height of this American team’s ability to claim victory. Take care of business in Orlando and the trip to Qatar is almost there. There’s still a chance it’ll be a party night if more results go Team USA’s way. It would be fitting if El Salvador, with former United States international midfielder Hugo Perez at the helm, could make a solid run in the United States.

There are reasons to worry. Reggie Cannon’s positive test for COVID-19, combined with DeAndre Yedlin’s suspension for a second caution in qualifying, leaves the United States with a shortage of right-backs. Shaq Moore is already waiting for the Orlando team, but that only partially solves the depth problem in this position.

The yellow card that Tim Weah received will also force him to miss the match against Panama, but this is countered by the return of Reyna. The Borussia Dortmund striker recorded his first minutes in a World Cup qualifier since last September after picking up an injury, and a mazy second-half run showed his ability. He certainly deserved some help for the way he set up Pefok.

More good news is that Tyler Adams went through the game without warning, making him available for the weekend. “I thought he was outstanding, especially with his energy level,” Berhalter said of Adams. “Maybe I’d like to see him on the ball a bit more. But overall a really solid performance. Our target was to get him out of around 60 [minutes], and I think we went a little further. But he should be good for the next game.”

That’s if Adams and the rest of his teammates can even move after the energy they expended against Mexico. Berhalter said his team will have plenty of time to recover. If the players do, a World Cup ticket could be theirs, with no ambiguity as to how they will feel.

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