USA ties Mexico, extends World Cup wait

MEXICO CITY — As the final whistle sounded late Thursday night, Jordan Pefok fell on the grass and covered his face with his hands. Pef...

MEXICO CITY — As the final whistle sounded late Thursday night, Jordan Pefok fell on the grass and covered his face with his hands.

Pefok, a forward for the United States men’s soccer team, was tired, of course. He and his teammates had just faced Mexico to a 0-0 draw at the Estádio Azteca, a commendable result at an altitude that can leave even elite athletes breathless.

But, more than that, Pefok looked crestfallen. About 20 minutes earlier he had missed an excellent close-range chance, firing a shot so wide from an open goal that everyone in the stadium, fans on both sides, gasped.

What made the blunder even harder to believe was that Christian Pulisic, in the first half, missed a surefire chance from an eerily similar spot, whipping his shot from close range straight at the Mexican keeper , even as the entire net stood in awe. before him.

Either chance could have provided the difference in victory in the crucial penultimate game of the World Cup qualifiers for the Americans. How much will mistakes be regretted? It will take a few more days to be sure.

But in this way, the night – at the stadium in the Mexican capital and inside others around the world where simultaneous competitions were being played on Thursday – provided more reminders of the thin margins, hidden traps and cosmic twists that regularly conspire to make the world Cup qualifying rounds so entertaining and maddening.

Italy produced dozens of chances in their qualifier against North Macedonia, but the reigning European champions will miss the world cup after they failed to score and their guests found a way. Sweden, likewise, is still alive after finding an overtime winner against Czech Republic and Ecuador took his place in Qatar despite losing 3-1 in Paraguay.

Uruguay is go to the world cup after winning at home, but Canada lost and will have to wait at least a few days. The same is now true for Mexico and the United States; like Team Canada, they are close enough to earn a World Cup berth, but also aware that there is still room for escape.

“I’m disappointed that I missed a chance, and I would have loved to win the game,” Pulisic said after his team’s draw in Mexico. “But that’s the situation we’re in right now, and we’re happy with it.”

Luck of course has a way out in the evening, and in other ways the United States got lucky on Thursday.

All week, players have been asked how they’d manage their nerves in the hair-raising atmosphere of the Azteca, where rowdy, capacity-packed crowds can induce claustrophobia in visiting teams. But the stadium they entered on Thursday was oddly tame.

The building’s capacity has been drastically reduced – from 87,000 to 50,000 – as part of an ongoing effort by the Mexican federation to curb the persistent attacking chants of the home team’s fans. The traveling American supporters, cloistered in a group in a corner of the upper deck, sometimes made more noise than their much more numerous counterparts.

It was the Americans’ third straight draw in a World Cup qualifier at the Azteca, a rather surprising statistic that perhaps paints a picture of a team feeling increasingly comfortable in the house of his main rival.

Also working in favor of the United States, an unexpected result in one of the other games: Panama, who started the day in fourth place, managed only a draw at home against Honduras, a team languishing in last place with little to play for.

The Americans face Panama in their next game on Sunday in Orlando, Florida, and Thursday’s scores now mean a win there would put the Americans in a strong position to earn one of three automatic qualifying spots. In the region. They closed their World Cup qualifying campaign on the road on Wednesday against Costa Rica, who also picked up a surprising result, a 1-0 win over top-seeded Canada to lift fourth-placed Panama.

“I can’t wait to go home and have a good performance,” USA coach Gregg Berhalter said.

Berhalter’s biggest challenge for this game might be managing his somewhat exhausted travel party staff. The team was already shorthanded through injury, entering the three-game window without four key players: right-back Sergiño Dest, midfielders Weston McKennie and Brenden Aaronson and goalkeeper Matt Turner.

Then, before the game, the team sent off defender Reggie Cannon, who tested positive for coronavirus, and meanwhile two other starters, Timothy Weah and DeAndre Yedlin, received yellow cards which ruled them out of the game. competition on Sunday evening. To fill the sudden gaps, Shaq Moore, a defender who plays in the Spanish second division, was quickly called up. He will meet the team in Orlando before Sunday’s game and will more than likely be in the starting lineup at kickoff.

For available players, the Panama game could represent a punishing turnaround. Many of them, especially those in the starting lineup against Mexico, were visibly struggling at the end of the game.

Afterward, Berhalter praised his players for expending every ounce of energy and in the same breath downplayed the potential physical consequences for doing so.

“We will recover,” he said. “There is plenty of time to recover.”

A factor helping the team’s cause will be the re-emergence of attacking midfielder Gio Reyna, who came on as a substitute in the second half. The match marked Reyna’s first appearance for the team since September, when he suffered a leg injury that sidelined him for months.

Reyna was the player who provided the potential assist for Pefok, skillfully buffering the ball in the air over her teammate’s foot, before it was wasted. Reyna became visibly agitated after the miss, holding out her hands in disbelief, staring at Pefok for several seconds after the ball went out of bounds.

The gesture may have seemed unseemly, but Reyna moments later thrilled the crowd with a dizzying dribble rush, a winding, high-speed journey from the back near the American penalty area almost to the Mexican goal at the during which he beat half a dozen. opposing players, some of them multiple times.

Berhalter compared the run to the famous solo goal Argentina’s Diego Maradona scored at the Azteca in the 1986 World Cup.

“I had visions of that while Gio was dribbling,” Berhalter said. “Unfortunately he didn’t get the chance to finish it.”

In World Cup qualifying, after all, there is often a very thin line between glory and disappointment. The Americans hope, in the coming days, to land on the right side.

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Newsrust - US Top News: USA ties Mexico, extends World Cup wait
USA ties Mexico, extends World Cup wait
Newsrust - US Top News
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