2022 World Cup within reach for USA after draw in Mexico; USMNT can qualify Sunday vs. Panama in Orlando – Sporting News

It didn’t set any records, it didn’t make history and it might not feel like much, but the point the U.S. Men’s National Team earned at the Estadio Azteca on Thursday night is a critical one.
The United States played to a 0-0 draw with Mexico at the famed arena, and with the spoils shared, the USMNT can now see the finish line in its quest for qualification to the 2022 World Cup.
The job is not yet done, but the path has become much clearer. A win against Panama on Sunday would all but put the U.S. into the World Cup.
MORE: USA draws with Mexico in visit to Estadio Azteca
The display against Mexico was a promising one even if the team did lack a finishing touch. The visitors to an unusually empty Azteca were the better side, and while Mexico had its chances, the U.S. will feel it deserved to win the match based on body of work.
Gio Reyna produced the highlight of the night as he returned from a long-term injury. He troubled the Mexican defense in his half-hour substitute appearance.
We see you Gio Reyna 🔥 pic.twitter.com/F49wJUzd07
“The game was there for us to win and unfortunately we didn’t get that goal,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “The intention was to put out there a team that defended well, but at the same time generated danger in the attack.
“Each of our players left it all out there on the field. We did well on defense and we had a lot of ways to contain their midfield.”
MORE: Which teams have qualified for the 2022 World Cup?
Soccer is a results-based game — just ask Italy — but with a hard-fought point in hand, the conversation after the match shifted to a process-focused discussion. While the U.S. didn’t get the win, being deserving of a win at the Azteca was more than enough to satisfy fans and have them looking ahead to a possible decisive match against Panama on Sunday in the friendly confines of Exploria Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
Officially, the United States must finish Sunday four points ahead of Panama and Costa Rica to clinch a place at the 2022 World Cup, but that is somewhat misleading. With plus-9 goal differential compared to Costa Rica’s plus-2 and Panama’s plus-1, finishing the day just three points ahead would almost surely be enough. It would leave Costa Rica needing to make up at least an eight-goal differential against the U.S. on the final matchday, a Herculean task.
All of that hinges on a win at home against Panama. Los Canaleros slumped to a disappointing draw against last-place Honduras at home that left them out of a qualifying place altogether. They were leapfrogged by Costa Rica, which for now holds the intercontinental playoff spot. They have won just one of their last four qualifiers and only one of their five qualifying victories has been by more than one goal.
Still, this is a Panama team that shocked the U.S. 1-0 in Panama City in October. It held the U.S. without a shot on target and snatched a 53rd-minute winner. So the U.S. is aware of the danger Panama presents and revenge for that embarrassment is squarely on the table.
Anything less than a win, and those giving chase can make things very awkward. Worse, it would leave the United States teetering on the edge heading into a final-day trip to Costa Rica, a place that has been a house of horrors for the Americans. The USMNT has never won there in World Cup qualifying.
Things went according to plan Thursday night at the Azteca, and while the World Cup qualifying train has not yet arrived at the station, it remains very much on track. Only colossal misstep can threaten to derail the U.S. locomotive.


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