It’s probably safe to say that, despite being just 18 years old, Christian Pulisic is the real deal. He’s got just 15 caps to his name but already has seven goals, basically averaging a goal every other game. None of those seven goals were more important than the two he scored on Thursday night in a crucial World Cup Qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago to give the US a 2-0 win over the Socca Warriors and move them up to third place in the Hex. Now comes the third and final game of this window for the US and it’s the one everybody knew was going to be the most difficult: a trip to Mexico City to take on El Tri at the famed Azteca Stadium.
It wasn’t always pretty but thanks to Pulisic the US was able to get the job done and get all three points against Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday night. It was very obvious right from the start that Trinidad & Tobago was going to put 10 men behind the ball and hope to steal a goal on the counter (which Kenwyne Jones nearly did once or twice). It took quite a while for the US to finally break them down (with the crowd growing more and more restless with each passing minute) but luckily Pulisic was there in the 52nd minute to break the deadlock, thanks to some fantastic work in the box by Darlington Nagbe. But as was the case with last Saturday’s Venezuela friendly, nobody really did much to help or hurt their chances of solidifying a roster spot going forward, with the obvious exception of Pulisic and the possible exception of Jorge Villafana who has been something akin to a revelation at left back (a longtime thorn in the side of the US backline). Tim Howard was also his usual reliable self in goal, earning his 39th clean sheet in a US shirt. But for the US to get a result on the road in Mexico, all eleven players on the field will need to play better than they have the last two games, especially since Mexico is in fantastic form right now.
That fantastic form of Mexico’s dates basically back to Juan Carlos Osorio being named manager in November of 2015. His record in that time is 18-2-3 and outside of the shocking 7-0 defeat against Chile in last summer’s Copa America Centenario, they’ve looked pretty good just about every time they’ve taken the field. And of course they finally got a result against the US in Columbus, winning 2-1 back in November and hastening the end of the Jurgen Klinsmann era. The roster for Mexico is loaded, though in addition to World Cup Qualifiyng and a pair of friendlies late last month, this will also be the bulk of the roster for Mexico at this summer’s Confederations Cup (the prize for beating the US in the CONCACAF Cup in October of 2015). Up front are Gioavani dos Santos, Carlos Vela, Oribe Peralta and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez who in a friendly against Croatia last month scored his 47th international goal, good enough for first on Mexico’s all-time scoring list. The midfield is just as loaded as the front line with the likes of Hector Herrera, Marco Fabian and Javier Aquino. Notably absent however are Rafael Marquez and Andres Gauardado both of whom are on the roster for the Confederations Cup.