Christian Pulisic kicks USA over Mexico 2-0 in World Cup qualifiers

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USA’s Weston McKennie celebrates his goal with Tyler Adams, left, and Christian Pulisic during the second half of a FIFA World Cup qualifier football match against Mexico on Friday. Julio Cortez / AP Photo

CINCINNATI (AP) – Christian Pulisic sent a message – with his head and his undershirt.

Take it, Mexico. Pulisic and the Americans are back at the top of the region.

Pulisic scored on his very first touch in the 74th minute, Weston McKennie added a goal in the 85th and the United States beat Mexico 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifier – the “Dos a Cero” result line that became traditional early in the 21st century.

When Pulisic scored on his first touch five minutes after entering, he ran to the finish line and pulled up his jersey to show the red-white-and-blue-clad fans.

“Man in the mirror,” was written in dark ink.

Earlier this week, El Tri goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa was quoted as saying: “Mexico is the mirror that the United States wants to see itself in.”

A night that began with smoke – from fireworks during “The Star-Spangled Banner” as LED lights flashed through the stands – ended with Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” playing on the speaker system.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said Thursday that Ochoa’s remarks showed, “that we have a long way to go to gain respect from Mexico.”

Fans in the crowd of 26,000 at the new TLQ Stadium bulged Ochoa with every touch.

“I think you know the message. I do not have to like talking too much about it,” Pulisic said. “It’s just an idea that came to mind.”

Tim Weah said he and defender DeAndre Yedlin inspired Pulisic’s jersey.

“Just to send a message,” Weah said. “Before the match, Mexico spoke a lot of smell. To shut them up, we must continue to win battles, continue to beat them. That’s the only way we’ll deserve their respect and gain the respect of the world. ”

The victory was the third this year for the 13th ranked Americans above No. 9 in Mexico after a 3-2 victory in the Nations League final in June and a 1-0 victory in the CONCACAF Gold final in August.

“Winning three in a row is great, of course,” Pulisic said, “but that does not mean it’s time to be complacent or time to think, oh, we’re the best.”

Heated matches between Mexico and the USA are the norm, and this one ended with the USA being a man shortly after Miles Robinson – who scored the Gold Cup goal – got a couple of yellow cards.

“We really do not like Mexico’s football team, do not we, and we are tough competitors and we want to win every time on the pitch,” said Berhalter, making a point to distinguish Mexico’s team from its people. “Afterwards, you shake hands and move on. We have great respect for them.”

The United States and Mexico each have 14 points, followed by Canada with 13, Panama 11, Costa Rica, Jamaica and El Salvador six each and Honduras three.

Three nations from North and Central America and the Caribbean qualify for next year’s tournament in Qatar, and the nation in fourth place advances to a playoff.

The United States won four home qualifiers in a row against Mexico 2-0, all in Columbus, Ohio, before falling 2-1 in November 2016 at Crew Stadium. This led to the Americans missing the 2018 World Cup.

Pulisic came on, Brenden Aaronson had to leave the fray. Since a high left ankle sprain on September 8 in Honduras, Pulisic had been limited to a couple of late games for Chelsea.

“I have never had such an injury,” he said. “It was just dealing with pain in different places on my ankle. And it was just about making sure it was right, and now I feel like it’s a good place.”

Zack Steffen kept in his second qualifying goal in a row the match 0-0 as he dived down to get his left hand on a shot from a streak of Hirving Lozano in 18. The Americans overcame Mexico 18-8 but could not break through.

Yunus Musah, an 18-year-old who appeared as an important American midfielder, went on to the 21-year-old Weah on the right flank to set up the first goal. Weah, son of Liberia’s president and former FIFA player of the year George Weah, crossed, and Pulisic came in front of Johan Johan Vásquez and headed the ball past Ochoa to his 17th international goal.

McKennie, who dropped off the list for two games in September for violating the team’s COVID-19 protocol, scored with an 8-foot right-footed shot after exchanging passes with Jesús Ferreira. The return pass deflected McKennie’s boot, hit Vásquez and ran onto the pitch for McKennie, who ran on the ball to his eighth international goal.

Rain fell in much of a match that began in a 42-degree cold, the coldest for a U.S. qualifier since Snow Classico in March 2013, a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica played in 29-degree temperatures in Commerce City, Colorado.

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