MEXICO CITY (AP) — The United States escaped a half-full Estadio Azteca with a 0-0 draw against Mexico on Thursday night and put themselves in position to clinch a World Cup berth with victory at home against Panama this weekend.
Christian Pulisic had the best American chances but was denied twice by goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
Zack Steffen started on Ethan Hovath and came away with his second shutout against Mexico in qualifying. El Tri fans booed the home side at the final whistle.
The draw, the third consecutive qualifying for the United States in the thin air of Azteca at 7,200 feet, was costly. Defender DeAndre Yedlin and winger Tim Weah both received their second qualifying yellow cards and are suspended for Sunday’s game against Panama in Orlando, Florida, the penultimate of the region’s final round.
The United States retained second place in North and Central America and the Caribbean with 22 points, four behind Canada and ahead of Mexico on goal difference.
With a victory on Sunday, the United States would ensure that fourth-placed Costa Rica could only come out on top by winning their last two matches. The United States has a goal difference of plus nine, the first tiebreaker, and the Ticos have a plus two differential after a 1-0 win over Canada.
The United States will close on March 30 in Costa Rica, where the Americans have never won in qualifying. The top three nations qualify and the No. 4 team advances to the playoffs, likely against New Zealand.
Panama have 17 points after being held 1-1 by Honduras
After FIFA ordered Mexico to play two qualifiers at home without fans as punishment for homophobic chanting in October qualifiers against Honduras and Canada, the Mexican Football Federation restricted crowds to around 30,000 to 40,000 in the 87,000 seat stadium and required spectators to present a QR. Code and identification for entry.
For much of the first half, two sections of American outlaws in the upper deck were louder than the Mexican fans.
Yedlin received his second yellow card for an unnecessary sliding tackle in midfield in the 26th minute, leaving the United States at right-back for Sunday. Sergiño Dest has a hamstring injury and Reggie Cannon has tested positive for COVID-19.
Weah received his yellow card in the 39th,
Pulisic was alone in front in the 36th minute after Weah rounded two defenders on a cross. Sprinting towards goal with a pursuing defender, Pulisic redirected the ball with his left foot from 7 yards out only for Ochoa to react quickly enough to block his ribcage shot
Pulisic had another close call with an angled left-footed shot that Ochoa parried in the 49th for a corner.
Raúl Jiménez unsuccessfully demanded a penalty from Guatemalan referee Mario Escobar late in the second half after falling on a leg from defender Walker Zimmerman.
Jordan Pefok sent an open shot wide from a pass from Gio Reyna, just after the two entered the game. Reyna then dribbled half the length of the pitch in the 77th, avoiding four tackles before the ball was sent off.
Early in the game, Hirving Lozano fired a shot just over the crossbar.
Aaron Long and Erik Palmer-Brown came on in the 80th minute, the 37th and 38th American players used in qualifying. Palmer-Brown became the 114th player used in the World Cup cycle, the 88th since Berhalter took over as coach in December 2018.
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