America looking for first qualifier win in thin air at Estadio Aztec

MEXICO CITY (AP) – Five starters have been injured leaving a match in the thin air of the Estadio Azteca, a World Cup berth remains uncertain and an even more important game ahead for Christian Pulisic and his American teammates. could.

America could return to soccer performance with two games to go if Thursday night is won, with Panama losing to last-placed Honduras at home and Costa Rica failing to win at home against first-placed Canada. Is. In October 2017, Pulisic fell to the ground and hit his head in one hand when the Americans were defeated and eliminated on the final night in Trinidad.

“I’ve been waiting for this for years. Obviously, without getting it done last time, it’s been a big goal for me and this team,” Pulisic said on Wednesday. “I’m obviously excited.”

Canada is ahead of North and Central America and the Caribbean on 25 points, and the US is in second place with 21 points, ahead of Mexico on goal difference. Panama is fourth with 17 points, followed by Costa Rica with 16 and El Salvador with nine. Jamaica and Honduras have been wiped out.

The top three nations qualify for the 32-nation arena in Qatar this November, and advance to the June playoffs against fourth-placed Oceania champions, potential New Zealand.

“We are in good shape to qualify. There is no need to dramatically change what we are doing,” said Antoine Robinson. “We just have to keep going, believe in ourselves.”

The next match is Sunday’s match against Panama in Orlando, Florida, when the United States can win unless Costa Rica wins its last three matches.

Some of the nervous fan base suggested that American coach Greg Berhalter freshened up top-line players for the home game and the March 30 match in Costa Rica, where America never won.

“I heard that argument, we should plan B team. And what I did was I took it to the staff and we debated it. We looked at all sides of it,” Berhalter said. Come and see you tomorrow.”

The US is registering three consecutive wins against Mexico, at the CONCACAF Nations League Final in Denver in June, the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final in Las Vegas in August, and a qualifier in Cincinnati in November.

“You see an increase in almost every one of those games, ending in the last one in the qualifiers, where people were really confident going into the game,” Berhalter said. “We cannot let our guard down. We have a bad record here. The chances of getting something out of this game are against us. We know that. We are aware of this. And so it is.”

The Azteca is a notoriously difficult place for visitors, with steep stands and an overcrowded crowd that drew discipline from FIFA for homophobic chants – the 87,000-capacity venue as part of Mexican Football Federation crowd-control measures. Limiting attendance to around 50,000.

More accustomed to thin air at an altitude of 7,200 feet (2,200 m) than opponents, El Tree has suffered 40 wins, nine draws and two losses in qualifiers at Azteca, Costa Rica in 2001 and Honduras in 2013. The Americas do not win with the Azteca in qualifying with five losses and three draws, and seven not-wins in 10 competitive matches.

“Of course, we know about altitude. Some people may be more used to it than others,” Pulisic said.

Nearly half of American players are injured in the January 30 qualifiers in Canada: goalkeeper Matt Turner (leg/ankle), defenders Sergino Dest (left thigh strain) and Chris Richards (right ankle), and midfielders Brendan Aarons (knee) and Weston McKennie. (Two broken bones in left leg).

Midfielder Gio Reyna is back for the first time after straining a hamstring in the opening qualifiers on September 2. Another prominent midfielder, Tyler Adams, has not played a full match since returning from a hamstring injury in the January 30 qualifiers in Canada.

Berhalter would not say where Jack Stephen or Ethan Horvath would start in goal or even whether Sean Johnson was in contention.

This could be the last US-Mexico qualifier of great imports – or possibly at all. Both receive automatic berths for the 2026 tournament they co-host with Canada, and with the World Cup expanding from 32 countries to 48 after this year’s tournament, CONCACAF will likely have six berths. and will develop a format that sustains the strengths of the region. by competition in the same group.

But the stretch of the first three games comes in that will define this rebuilt American team.

“One thing I told the staff in my meeting as we started camp is probably the biggest week of our lives as a professional coach,” Berhalter said.

Notes: Adams, Stephen, defender DeAndre Yedlin and winger Tim Weh carry yellow cards and will be suspended for one match along with another. … Mario Escobar of Guatemala will be the referee. He worked in the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup final, a 1-0 American loss to Mexico at Soldier Field in Chicago.

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