The United States beat Mexico 2-0 at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium last night, scoring twice in the second half to move to the top of the table in Concacaf World Cup qualifying.
1. Growing into the game
Heading into the match, just one of the USMNT’s last nine goals had come in the first half. Now it’s one of their last eleven. Their first half showed promise, especially in possession, but was uneven and showed vulnerability from self-inflicted mistakes.
After the break, Gregg Berhalter’s side was a different team. They controlled the ball for long stretches right outside Mexico’s 18-yard-box, a sight fans have rarely seen over the last couple decades. Tyler Adams in particular set the tempo and consistently picked the right pass to ask questions of Mexico’s backline or relieve pressure from his own.
The US ended up by far the more dangerous side, outshooting Mexico 18-8. It wasn’t just that they did it, but how they did it that made the result so impressive. They didn’t resort to the “defend and counter” style that encapsulated the program under previous managers. They possessed the ball, made intelligent off-ball runs, and stuck to the identity Berhalter has tried to establish. And it paid off.
2. Key players show up
Christian Pulisic hadn’t scored a goal from open play for the US since the 2019 Gold Cup 28 months ago. He scored against Mexico with his first touch of the game.
Weston McKennie, sent home from September’s qualifiers for violation of team policy, put in a spectacular 90 minute shift even before his late goal to ice the game.
Wearing the captain’s armband, Tyler Adams pulled the strings from midfield and put out fires in front of defense. And 18-year-old Yunus Musah put in the best performance of his young career, shielding the ball with a maturity beyond his years and effortlessly running through El Tri‘s midfield.
It’s cliche, but in big games your best players need to be your best players. They were last night for the US.
3. Robinson and Zimmerman’s partnership continues to grow
Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman were once again paired together at the back, and the duo earned their fourth clean sheet in five games together since this summer’s Gold Cup.
Zimmerman in particular was immense, winning everything thrown at him in the air and keeping Raul Jimenez on lockdown for the night. After not even making the initial squad for the last round of qualifiers, he’s making a case to be the best center back in the pool and seems to be pushing into “undroppable” status.
With John Brooks dropped after poor performances for his club side and Mark McKenzie struggling in Belgium, Zimmerman and Robinson appear to be the first-choice pairing. Robinson picked up a late red card against Mexico, so Chris Richards should get a chance to start against Jamaica. But in the Zimmerman-Robinson duo, Berhalter seems to have stumbled on a defensive solution that’s evaded the USMNT for years.
The United States have beaten Mexico in three consecutive competitive matches this year. This is just the second time in program history that has happened.
While there have certainly been growing pains since the 2018 debacle, it’s hard to deny the progress this side has made under Berhalter, and they’re now sitting at the top of the Concacaf table halfway through the final round of World Cup qualifying. They’re no longer aiming to simply compete with Mexico; they’ve been dominant against them this year.
It’s easy to take too much from a single match. It’s hard not to draw conclusions after three consecutive wins against Mexico, and the results argue that the tables have turned in Concacaf.