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USMNT facing Mexico on Thursday in 2022 World Cup Qualifying

CHICAGO – The U.S. Men’s National Team will begin its final slate of 2022 World Cup Qualifying matches this week when it takes on archrival Mexico at the famed Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.

With just three matches remaining, the USA is currently second in the Octagonal standings and will look to lock up a World Cup berth during this international window.

Kickoff from Mexico City is set for 10 p.m. ET (Univision, TUDN, CBS Sports Network, Paramount+).

USMNT ROSTER BY POSITION – MARCH WORLD CUP QUALIFYING

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Nottingham Forest/ENG; 7/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 9/0), Zack Steffen (Manchester City/ENG; 26/0)

DEFENDERS (9): George Bello (Arminia Bielefeld/GER; 6/0), Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR; 24/1), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 21/3), Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes/FRA; 2/0), Antonee Robinson (Fulham/ENG; 22/2), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United; 17/3), James Sands (Rangers/SCO; 7/0), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami; 71/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 25/3)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 48/2), Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig/GER; 24/1), Gianluca Busio (Venezia/ITA; 8/0), Luca de la Torre (Heracles/NED; 5/0), Yunus Musah (Valencia/ESP; 13/0), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders; 31/0)

FORWARDS (8): Paul Arriola (FC Dallas; 43/8), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 7/2), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 43/10), Jordan Pefok (Young Boys/SUI; 8/1), Ricardo Pepi (Augsburg/GER; 9/3), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 45/18), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund; 9/4), Tim Weah (Lille/FRA; 20/2)

ROSTER UPDATES

The USMNT has made two changes to the World Cup qualifying roster ahead of its match against Mexico. Defender George Bello was added to the squad after defender Sergiño Dest was injured in Barcelona’s Europa League match vs. Galatasary on March 17. Forward Brenden Aaronson was ruled out of the roster after suffering a knee injury during training with his club this past weekend.

USA SCHEDULE – MARCH WORLD CUP QUALIFYING

Date Opponent Venue Time (ET) TV Info
Thursday, March 24 Mexico Estadio Azteca; Mexico City, Mexico 10 p.m. Univision, TUDN, CBS Sports Network, Paramount+
Sunday, March 27 Panama Exploria Stadium; Orlando, Fla. 6:30 p.m. FS1, UniMas, TUDN
Wednesday, March 30 Costa Rica Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica; San Jose, Costa Rica 9:05 p.m. Paramount+, Universo, Peacock 

ALL EYES ON QUALIFICATION

With just three of 14 matches left to play, the USA is second of eight teams in the final round of Concacaf qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The top three teams in the Octagonal qualify automatically for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, while the fourth-place team will participate in an intercontinental playoff against the winner of Oceania’s qualifying tournament.

It’s a tight race at the top of the table. Five teams are still alive for the three automatic berths, while Canada is the only team that can finish no lower than fourth. The USA would need to earn five points during its next three matches to guarantee automatic qualification regardless of other results. The minimum number of points needed to qualify will change after virtually every match played during this March international window.

RIVALRY RENEWED

The USA kicks off its final set of World Cup qualifiers facing archrival Mexico for a record 74th time. El Tri is currently in third place of the Octagonal standings, even with the U.S. on 21 points but behind on goal differential +6 to +9.

Last year was a historic one in the USA-Mexico rivalry, as the USMNT defeated Mexico three times in a calendar year for the first time. Most recently, the North American powers faced off in Cincinnati during the November World Cup qualifying window, a 2-0 win for the USA. Two second-half goals, one from forward Christian Pulisic scored just minutes after entering and another late tally from Weston McKennie, boosted the U.S. to a crucial Octagonal victory.

Earlier in 2021, the USA topped Mexico to win two separate Concacaf championships. In June, the nations meet in the inaugural Concacaf Nations League Final, an instant classic that featured a Pulisic game-winning goal and heroic penalty kick save from substitute goalkeeper Ethan Horvath in extra time for a 3-2 win. In August, the confederation powers clashed again in the Concacaf Gold Cup Final, a 1-0 triumph for the USA in extra time on an 117th-minute goal from defender Miles Robinson. The two trophy-winning matches vs. Mexico were delivered by two almost entirely different squads.

FORTRESS AZTECA

While the USA holds a 17-9-6 advantage against Mexico since 2000, the U.S. is 0-3-3 in road World Cup qualifiers vs. El Tri in the modern era. Mexico City’s Estadio Azteca, one of the world’s most iconic soccer stadiums, provides a strong home-field advantage, situated 7,200 feet above sea level and filled with a raucous crowd.

Just six players have scored for the USA in the team’s 12 matches all-time at Azteca. Most recently, midfielder Michael Bradley scored an iconic golazo in the teams’ last World Cup qualifying match at the stadium in June 2017. Bradley’s goal boosted the USA to its first score-draw in World Cup qualifying at the famed venue.

STEELED FOR ACTION

Sporting one of the world’s youngest player pools for World Cup qualifying, the USMNT has gained loads of experience since the Octagonal kicked off in September. Twenty-seven players have made their World Cup qualifying debut through the first 11 matches and head coach Gregg Berhalter has twice fielded lineups that were the USA’s youngest-ever in World Cup qualifying.

Of the 26 players on the March qualifying roster, 17 return from the January/February World Cup qualifying squad. With 71 caps, defender DeAndre Yedlin is the most experienced player on the roster, followed by Kellyn Acosta (48), Christian Pulisic (45), Paul Arriola (43), Jordan Morris (43), Cristian Roldan (31), Zack Steffen (26) and Walker Zimmerman (25). Five players have double-digit World Cup Qualifying caps: Christian Pulisic (20), DeAndre Yedlin (17), Kellyn Acosta (16), Tyler Adams (10) and Antonee Robinson (10).

WELCOME BACK

A number of players are returning for the fold after a few international windows away from the USMNT. Defenders Aaron Long and Erik Palmer-Brown earned their first World Cup qualifying call-ups. Long has been recovering from a ruptured Achilles suffered last May, training individually with the USA in November before joining the squad for December and the January pre-qualifying training camp. The New York Red Bulls center back has captained the team five times – third-most among the 87 players that have earned caps during the Berhalter era. Palmer-Brown is back in camp for the first time since the USA’s March 2021 friendlies vs. Jamaica and Northern Ireland and is seeking his first cap under Berhalter.

Three other players return to the USMNT for the first time since the first World Cup qualifying window in September: goalkeeper Ethan Horvath plus forwards Jordan Pefok and Gio Reyna. Reyna has been working back from an injury suffered in the WCQ opener on Sept. 2 at El Salvador. Horvath and Pefok return in strong form, as Horvath has gone 4-0-2 and recorded three shutouts since being thrust back into the starting line-up at Nottingham Forest and Pefok leads the Swiss Pro League in scoring with 17 goals on the year, including 10 in his last nine league matches.

FIGHTING TO THE FINISH

World Cup qualifying in the Concacaf region is a gauntlet, and history shows that qualification usually comes down to the final matches of the competition. While the current format features 14 matches and eight teams, qualifying previously consisted of 10 matches and six teams. In five previous successful World Cup qualifying cycles, the USA didn’t clinch until Matchday 9 or 10 twice, Matchday 8 twice and Matchday 7 once.

This final slate of matches includes the opportunity for the USA to make history on the road – the USMNT is looking for its first World Cup qualifying win at Estadio Azteca after earning a draw in its last two qualifying matches at the stadium. The U.S. closes the window in Costa Rica, where it has only earned a result once – a 1-1 draw in 1985.

LAST TIME OUT

Scheduling changes due to the global COVID-19 pandemic set the stage for a special January/February international window and the USA earned six points across three matches in the midst of freezing conditions. The U.S. got off to a solid start with a 1-0 victory vs. El Salvador in its stronghold of Columbus, Ohio on a goal from defender Antonee Robinson before falling 2-0 to northern neighbor Canada in Ontario. The window finale vs. Honduras in St. Paul, Minn. featured the coldest kickoff temperature in USMNT history at five degrees. The USA embraced the elements in a comprehensive  3-0 win vs. Honduras. All three goals came off set plays as midfielder Weston McKennie, defender Walker Zimmerman and forward Christian Pulisic all found the back of the net.

Mexico earned seven points by the slimmest of margins during its winter World Cup qualifying window. Starting its slate on the road in Kingston, Jamaica, El Tri fell behind to the Reggae Boyz in the 50th minute before rallying for goals in the 81st and 83rd to secure a win. At home, Mexico then played Costa Rica to a 0-0 draw and needed an 80th-minute penalty to top Panama 1-0.

THE OCTAGONAL

For the first time, Concacaf has included eight teams in the final round of qualifying for the World Cup. The teams will play a round-robin, home and away format which includes 14 matches each. Due to the global health pandemic, a process which normally takes place during the course of 18 months has been reduced to seven. Additionally, the condensed schedule includes four ‘triple dates’ consisting of three matches during a seven-day window. The following teams have reached the final round: Canada, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Mexico and the United States.

USA ROSTER NOTES

●      On matchday, the roster will hold an average age of 24 years, 215 days.

●      The squad averages 21 caps and 12 appearances in official competition.

●      Players represent clubs in 10 different countries: USA (10), England (4), Germany (4), France (2), Spain (1), Italy (1), Netherlands (1), Portugal (1), Scotland (1) and Switzerland (1).

●      Eighteen players were part of the January/February World Cup Qualifying roster.

●      Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Adams and Antonee Robinson have each played in 10 of 11 World Cup qualifiers this cycle.

●      Thirteen players are age 24 and younger: Erik Palmer-Brown and A. Robinson (24); Adams, Reggie Cannon and Christian Pulisic (23); Tim Weah (22); Jesús Ferreira and James Sands (21); George Bello (20); Gianluca Busio, Yunus Musah, Ricardo Pepi and Gio Reyna (19).

●      Just 19 years old, Valencia midfielder Musah recently surpassed Kasey Keller as the USMNT’s all-time leader in La Liga appearances. Musah has made 27 appearances across all competitions for Valencia this season and played a key role in helping the club reach next month’s Copa del Rey Final.

●      Midfielder Busio and goalkeeper Zack Steffen also return to USMNT camp after missing out through injury in January.

●      Ethan Horvath, Sean Johnson, Aaron Long, and Erik Palmer-Brown are the four players seeking their first World Cup Qualifying caps.

●      Adams, Jordan Pefok, Steffen, Weah and DeAndre Yedlin enter camp on caution watch. Should any of them receive a yellow card during the next three games, they will be suspended for the next qualifying match.

●      Acosta, Paul Arriola, Pulisic and Yedlin are the four players to appear for the USMNT against Mexico at Estadio Azteca. Each of them started the 1-1 draw during the final round of 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying on June 11, 2017.

●      Four players have previously scored against Mexico. Pulisic leads the way with two goals against El Trí (June 6, 2021 and Nov. 12, 2021), followed by Adams (Sept. 11, 2018), Reyna (June 6, 2021) and Miles Robinson (Aug. 1, 2021).

USA-MEXICO

●      Sunday marks the USA’s 73rd match all-time vs. Mexico, by far the most frequent opponent in USMNT history. The U.S. is 22-36-15 against El Tri all-time dating back to 1934, but since 2000 holds a 17-9-6 advantage.

●      This is the archrivals’ fourth meeting in official Concacaf competition since the start of 2021, following the USA’s dramatic 3-2 triumph in last June’s Nations League Final and thrilling 1-0 victory in July’s Gold Cup Final.

●      The U.S. is 7-16-7 all-time vs. Mexico in World Cup qualifying and 5-4-4 since the 1998 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign.

●      The USMNT is 0-3-3 vs. El Tri on the road in World Cup qualifying during the modern era, but the USA has drawn its last two matches at Azteca. In June 2017, Michael Bradley’s golazo led the U.S. to a 1-1 draw, while the rivals played to a scoreless draw in March 2013.

MEXICO ROSTER BY POSITION (CLUB; CAPS/GOALS)

GOALKEEPERS (4): Carolos Acevedo (Santos Laguna; 1/0), Rodolfo Cota (Leon; 6/0), Guillermo Ochoa (America; 125/0), Alfredo Talavera (UNAM Pumas; 38/0)

DEFENDERS (11): Erick Aguirre (Monterrey; 10/0), Jesus Alberto Angulo (UANL Tigres; 6/0), Julian Araujo (LA Galaxy/USA; 2/0), Nestor Araujo (Celta Vigo/ESP; 57/3), Gerardo Arteaga (Genk/BEL; 13/0), Jesus Gallardo (Monterrey; 70/0), Cesar Montes (Monterrey; 21/1), Hector Moreno (Monterrey; 121/5), Israel Reyes (Puebla; 1/0), Jorge Sanchez (America; 20/1), Johan Vazquez (Genoa/ITA; 4/0)

MIDFIELDERS (8): Roberto Alvarado (Chivas Guadalajara; 26/4), Edson Alvarez (Ajax/NED; 53/2), Uriel Antuna (Cruz Azul; 28/8), Erick Gutierrez (PSV Eindhoven/NED; 28/1), Hector Herrera (Atletico Madrid/ESP; 96/10), Diego Lainez (Real Betis/ESP; 16/3), Carlos Rodriguez (Cruz Azul; 29/0), Luis Romo (Monterrey; 19/0)

FORWARDS (6): 
Jesus Corona (Sevilla/ESP; 66/10), Raul Jimenez (Wolverhampton/ENG; 92/29), Santiago Gimenez (Cruz Azul; 2/1), Hirving Lozano (Napoli/ITA; 55/15), Henry Martin (America; 18/5), Alexis Vega (Chivas Guadalajara; 15/3)

IN FOCUS: MEXICO

●     Mexico is aiming to qualify for its eighth straight FIFA World Cup and 17th overall. El Tri has only missed the tournament three times: failing to qualify 1974 and 1982 and being banned from the 1990 competition after fielding overage players in the 1988 Concacaf U-20 Championship.

●      Mexico qualified for the World Cup in all six iterations of the Hexagonal, topping the table twice, in 1998 and 2018. Its worst Final Round qualifying finish came in 2014, when two stoppage-time goals for the USA against Panama sent El Tri to the intercontinental playoffs.

●      Gerardo “Tata” Martino has managed El Tri since January 2019 and has led Mexico to a 33-7-9 record in that period, with three of those seven losses coming to the USA. He brings a wealth of experience in the international and club game, previously managing the Paraguay and Argentina national teams as well as Newell’s Old Boys and FC Barcelona.

●      Prior to taking the Mexico job, Martino led Atlanta United for two years, managing USMNT defenders George Bello and Miles Robinson as United won the 2018 MLS Cup.

●      Eighteen of Mexico’s 29 players compete domestically in Mexico, led by five players from Monterrey. El Tri also has players plying their trade abroad in Spain (4), Italy, Netherlands (2 each), Belgium, England and the USA (1 each).

●      Veteran goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s 125 caps lead the Mexico roster, which averages 36 international appearances, compared to 21 for the USA.

●      Forward Raul Jimenez’s 29 goals are the most on the squad. Eleven players have scored Mexico’s 14 goals during qualifying, led by two each from Raul Jimenez, Henry Martin and Alexis Vega.

●      Mexico qualified for the final round of Concacaf World Cup qualifying as the first-ranked team in the region, claiming one of five automatic berths in the Octagonal.

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