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USMNT defeats rival Mexico for third time in 2021, moving closer to World Cup berth

The U.S. and Mexico have a history of fighting over the same territory. Friday that territory was the 115 yards of wet ryegrass and synthetic turf that lines the floor of TQL Stadium.

And the dispute was settled, in part, by a player whose participation was in doubt until he came onto the field, with Christian Pulisic’s goal in the 75th minute sparking the U.S. to a 2-0 victory.

The second goal came from Weston McKennie in the 85th minute, pulling the U.S. (4-1-2) even with Mexico (4-1-2) atop the CONCACAF standings halfway through the 14-game qualifying tournament. After two victories during the summer, it also marked the first time the Americans have defeated El Tri three times in the same year.

The final margin, meanwhile, was a familiar one: The Americans’ last five qualifying wins over Mexico have all come in Ohio, all by 2-0 scores.

The U.S., which has lost one home qualifier to Mexico in the last half-century, wanted a home-field advantage Friday and it got one in Cincinnati’s intimate soccer-specific stadium.

The night was cold and wet, with a wind chill in the 30s under rainy skies. The Fins lights ringing the stadium painted the top deck in red, white and blue while outside vendors hawked U.S. and Mexican flags, scarfs and brightly colored serapes.

Few in the sellout crowd of 26,000 were cheering for the visitors.

The U.S.-Mexico soccer rivalry is among the most bitter in international sports. And Friday’s game — which was tight and taut before turning chippy midway through the second half — didn’t disappoint despite the fact the teams are heading in different directions.

The young Americans started two teenagers and six others aged 24 or younger. Just one player had participated in a previous qualifier with Mexico.

Mexico’s lineup, on the other hand, had only one player under 24 — and six who had played in a World Cup. That wide gap in experience showed in the early going, with only a diving one-handed save from keeper Zack Steffen preventing Hirving Lozano from giving Mexico a lead in the 18th minute. Twelve minutes later, another breakaway ended with Jesús Corona punching a right-footed shot wide of the near post.

Center back Walker Zimmerman also had a big first half, breaking up a pair of scoring opportunities.

But the second half started differently, with aging Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa leaping to deflect a bullet from McKennie over the bar four minutes after the intermission.

Pulisic, who hasn’t played for the U.S. since turning an ankle in a September qualifier in Honduras, came on for Brenden Aaronson in the 69th minute and made his presence felt quickly, weaving through traffic to get on the end of a Tim Weah cross five minutes later.

It was Pulisic’s first goal since the penalty kick he scored to beat Mexico in June’s Nations League final.

McKennie then put the game away with five minutes left in regulation, slicing a right-footed shot into the bottom left corner.

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