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Pulisic, McKennie Bring Dos a Cero Back for USMNT vs. Mexico

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It's Dos a Cero: The next generation. 

Into Friday's World Cup qualifier vs. Mexico for just five minutes as a second-half substitute, U.S. men's national team star Christian Pulisic scored the go-ahead goal in the 74th minute, while Weston McKennie added a second 11 minutes later to give the U.S. a familiar 2–0 win in an intense bout between the two storied rivals at FC Cincinnati's TQL Stadium.

The stakes were big, with the U.S. now topping the Concacaf Octagonal halfway through the cycle, tied on points with Mexico but ahead on goal differential. After the other results in the region on the night, the U.S. is a point clear of third-place Canada and three points ahead of fourth-place Panama. More importantly, the U.S. is eight points clear of fifth-place Costa Rica. The top three teams in the Octagonal automatically qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth-place team goes to an intercontinental playoff.

The Dos a Cero scoreline had been a fixture in World Cup qualifying bouts between the two sides, with the U.S. winning 2-0 in 2001, 2005, 2009 and 2013 before Mexico snapped the streak and prevented it from going to five in a row in Columbus in 2016, winning 2–1 to open the last round of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. On a night the U.S. made it three straight wins in competitive matches vs. El Tri in a matter of five months, following summer triumphs in the Concacaf Nations League and Gold Cup finals, the Americans took back their tradition as well.

The U.S. was a bit shorthanded for the match. Pulisic wasn't available from the start, Gregg Berhalter announced Thursday, citing his bandwidth after just returning from injury, while Sergiño Dest and Gio Reyna were sidelined with injuries of their own. Mexico wasn't playing with a full deck either, with the visitors facing a bit of a center back crisis. Néstor Araujo was suspended, while César Montes and Héctor Moreno were out injured, forcing manager Tata Martino to dip into his depth at a pivotal position.

Things were busy on the U.S. left to start the match, with left back Antonee Robinson pushing forward and trying to drive the U.S. attack only to be thwarted, while Jesús "Tecatito" Corona tried to go 1-v-1 on Miles Robinson—who was covering Antonee Robinson's area—on the other end, with the Atlanta United center back coming out on top in their duel.

The first U.S. half-chance emanated from the right, though. Yunus Musah did well to keep possession in the midfield before finding Tim Weah out wide, and he picked out Mexican-American forward Ricardo Pepi, whose redirect in the box went wide of the target in the fifth minute.

Weah called his own number from long range on a one-man transitional moment a couple of minutes later, trying to beat Guillermo Ochoa with a low blast when he had Brenden Aaronson streaking forward into the box. The veteran goalkeeper calmly and cleanly made the save.

Mexico tested Zack Steffen for the first time in the 12th minute. Edson Álvarez curled a shot from over 20 yards out toward the left post, but Steffen, who got the start over Matt Turner for a second straight qualifier, was equal to it, diving to his right and pushing it around the target.

Steffen made another massive save in the 18th minute, when Hirving Lozano was played through by Corona and found himself on a breakaway. With DeAndre Yedlin bearing down, Lozano still had room to shoot, but a sprawling Steffen made the save.

Another chance fell for Mexico at the half-hour mark, with Lozano feeding Corona after a U.S. turnover in the midfield, only for the Porto winger to mishit his first-time, close-range volley wide of Steffen's goal.

The best chances of the first half certainly went Mexico's way, but the U.S. did enjoy some menacing moments in the final third as well. In the 39th minute, Pepi's layoff set up Musah for a chance from the edge of the box, but the Valencia midfielder overpowered his chance and sent it into the stands.

The U.S. came out aggressively in the second half and forced Ochoa into action just a few minutes in. Weah was played down the right by Yedlin and cut back a ball through the Mexico box, with Pepi letting it roll to an unmarked Weston McKennie. The Juventus midfielder lined up his shot and blasted it right at the Mexican goalkeeper, who parried it away for a corner.

The match turned physical a little after the hour mark, with a pair of confrontations between the sides, the latter coming after Chaka Rodríguez appeared to grab Aaronson's face and eyes. 

In the aftermath, McKennie was among those given a yellow card, which is his second of the Octagonal and rules him out for Tuesday's match in Jamaica.

Shortly after, Pulisic made his entrance, coming off the bench to replace Aaronson. It didn't take long for him to make his mark. Weah took his defender 1-v-1 down the right, while Pulisic got into position in front of the goal, heading home the cross to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead.

The magic scoreline U.S. fans have grown accustomed to chanting appeared 11 minutes later, with McKennie beating Ochoa to make it 2–0 after trying to work a combination with substitute Jesús Ferreira, only for a Mexican defender’s block to play him in on goal.

The joy was tempered some in the 90th minute, when Miles Robinson picked up his second yellow of the game. Not only did it reduce the U.S. to 10 men, but it ensured that he, like McKennie, will miss the Jamaica match. On the balance, the U.S. will certainly be walking away happy, though, halfway toward achieving its goal of securing a ticket to Qatar. 

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