Dos a Cero again: USMNT blanks Mexico 2-0 for crucial World Cup qualifying victory

Christian Pulisic (10) celebrates his second-half goal with Weston McKennie (8).
Christian Pulisic (10) celebrates his second-half goal with Weston McKennie (8).

CINCINNATI — Of course the game ended Dos a Cero. It had to.

Christian Pulisic scored on a header five minutes after he came on as a substitute Friday night, and Weston McKennie slotted one home in the 85th to give the U.S. men what's become their trademark: a 2-0 win over Mexico in World Cup qualifying.

"As far as against Mexico, you could argue it's one of our best games," Pulisic said. "There were moments I felt like we were really dominant and had control of the game. I was really proud of that performance."

It's the fifth time since 2000 the USMNT has beaten Mexico 2-0 in World Cup qualifying — with all of the wins coming in the state of Ohio. The Americans also beat their neighbors to the south by that score in the round of 16 at the 2002 World Cup.

Even better? The victory puts the USMNT atop the Concacaf standings at the midway point of qualifying.

The USMNT and Mexico both have 14 points, but the Americans have the tiebreaker as of now because of the head-to-head win. Qualifying concludes in March, and the top three teams automatically advance to next year's World Cup in Qatar, with the fourth-place team going to a playoff.

"To be in this position is unbelievable," Pulisic said, "but we haven’t accomplished our ultimate goal yet."

The Americans had the better of Mexico for much of the game, particularly in the second half, but couldn't convert their chances. Balls in the box were deflected, or flew wide of the post.

But the appearance of Pulisic gave the USMNT the boost it needed.

Pulisic had missed much of the last two months after spraining his ankle in the second half of a qualifier against Honduras in September, only returning to training with Chelsea two weeks ago. He's a singular talent, however, as he quickly showed.

Tim Weah — who had perhaps the best evening of any of the U.S. men — fed a perfect cross into the center of the box in the 74th minute, and Pulisic coolly headed it home from close range. The goal follows the game-winner Pulisic scored against El Tri in the Nations Cup final in June.

As the crowd at TQL Stadium erupted, Pulisic pulled up his jersey to reveal a shirt that read "Man in the Mirror," a reference to Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa's comment that "Mexico is the mirror in which the United States wants to see itself."

"It was just to send a message," said Weah, who said he and DeAndre Yedlin had asked U.S. Soccer staff to make the shirt. "Before the game, Mexico was talking a lot of smack, and we had to shut them up."

But this wouldn't be a World Cup qualifier against Mexico, particularly one in Ohio, without another goal, and McKennie delivered. Jesus Ferreira sent a ball into the scrum in front of the goal, and McKennie slotted it into the corner of the net, just beyond Ochoa's reach.

Zack Steffen also played a role in preserving Dos a Cero, making two monster saves in the first half. That included a stretched-out one that denied a shot from close range by Chucky Lozano.

"It would have been a shame," U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said, "if we didn’t win the game."

Follow Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USMNT beats Mexico 2-0 for crucial World Cup qualifying win