CINCINNATI — Christian Pulisic scored on a glancing header with his first touch of the game in the 74th minute, Weston McKennie added a goal in the 85th and the United States beat Mexico 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifier.
After falling to the Mexicans 2-1 in November 2016 at Columbus, Ohio, the U.S. reverted to the traditional “Dos a Cero” scoreline that marked the four previous home qualifying matchups from 2001-13 — all in Columbus.
Still regaining fitness after spraining his left ankle on Sept. 8 at Honduras, the 23-year-old Pulisic entered in place of Brenden Aaronson in the 69th minute and lifted the U.S. into a first-place tie with Mexico as the 14-game final round of qualifying reached the halfway point.
Yunus Musah, an 18-year-old emerging as a key American midfielder, passed to 21-year-old Tim Weah on the right flank. Weah, the son of Liberia president and former FIFA Player of the Year George Weah, crossed and Pulisic got in front of Johan Vásquez and headed the ball past goalkeeper David Ochoa for his 17th international goal.
Pulisic, making his third substitute appearance following the injury — the first two were for Chelsea — ran to the endline and pointed at the American badge on his jersey and jubilant red-white-and-blue clad U.S. supporters errupted at TQL Stadium.
McKennie, dropped from the roster for two matches in September for violating team COVID-19 protocols, scored after exchanging passes with Jesús Ferreira, McKennie’s eighth international goal.
However, McKennie is suspended for Tuesday’s qualifier at Jamaica after getting his second yellow card of the competition, assessed in the 68th minute for arguing with the officials after they failed to call Mexico for fouling Aaronson.
Defender Miles Robinson also is suspended after getting two yellow cards, the second causing the U.S. to play a man short after the 89th minute.
The U.S. moved into first place in the North and Central American and Caribbean region with 14 points, ahead of Mexico on goal difference. Canada has 13 points, Panama 11, Costa Rica, Jamaica and El Salvador six each and Honduras three.
Three nations from the eight-team group qualify for next year’s tournament in Qatar and the fourth-place team advances to a playoff.
The win was the third this year for the Americans over Mexico, following a 3-2 victory in the Nations League final in June — also on a Pulisic goal — and a 1-0 victory in the CONCACAF Gold final in August.
Rain fell as the game began in a 42-degree chill, the coldest for a U.S. qualifier since the Snow Classico of March 2013, a 1-0 win over Costa Rica played in 29-degree temperatures at Commerce City, Colorado.
Ochoa was booed with each touch, apparently because U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said Thursday that quotes said to be from Ochoa showed the Americans still had to gain Mexico’s respect.