Mexico City (AFP) – United States coach Gregg Berhalter believes the odds are against his team getting a positive result against Mexico in their crunch 2022 World Cup qualifying clash at the Azteca Stadium on Thursday.
The USA and Mexico are level on 21 points heading into the final round of qualifiers for the CONCACAF region, and a victory for either side in Thursday’s meeting will all but guarantee a World Cup berth.
But although the USA have been buoyed by three consecutive wins over the Mexicans — including a 2-0 victory in qualifying last November — the fact the Americans have never won a competitive game in Mexico City is looming over the fixture.
Berhalter addressed that uncomfortable truth head-on when speaking to reporters during a videoconference on Wednesday.
“Our record here is horrendous,” Berhalter said. “The odds are against us getting something out of this game, right?
“We know that. We realize that. That’s just how it is and we’re focused on being difficult to play against.”
Nevertheless, Berhalter feels his side’s recent successes over Mexico could provide the basis for optimism.
“It’s an evolution when you look at our team and those three wins. You see growth going into this game. But we can’t let our guard down,” Berhalter said.
“But we do have confidence from how we grew as a team in those three games.”
“It’s going to be a highly competitive game. We have to be up for that kind of game. And we are.”
CONCACAF qualifying leaders Canada, who are four points clear of the USA and Mexico, will assure themselves of a World Cup berth if they beat Costa Rica in San Jose on Thursday.
Depending on results elsewhere on Thursday a win for either Mexico or the United States at the Azteca could be enough to secure qualification for Qatar.
The likeliest scenario for qualification however could be the USA’s home qualifier against Panama in Orlando on Sunday.
Berhalter admitted on Wednesday he had considered saving his strongest team for the Panama game, and effectively fielding a B-team against Mexico.
“I heard that argument. And I took it to the staff,” Berhalter said. “And we debated it. We looked at all sides, ‘Hey does this have merit?’ I think it was an important exercise to do that. We came out with our answer and you’ll see tomorrow.
“There’s no harm in looking at both sides of this thing. We know that the Panama game is an important game, and we know that Mexico and Costa Rica will be important games too.
“Our mindset is one game at a time.”
Although Berhalter has had to grapple with an injury crisis that has ruled out Juventus’s Weston McKennie and Barcelona’s Sergino Dest, the US can at least call on Christian Pulisic, who has been in form for English giants Chelsea recently.
Pulisic was a member of the US team who failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and acknowledged that bitter memory was driving the team towards Qatar.
“Of course we use it as motivation,” Pulisic said on Wednesday.
“We were extremely upset. And now we want to qualify. We definitely don’t want to go through that again.”
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