Wednesday, January 26 2022

CINCINNATI — The sounds of raucous celebrations following the U.S. men’s victory over archrival Mexico could be heard well beyond the locker room, echoing through the hallways of TQL stadium.

And why not? The 2-0 victory Friday night – yet another “Dos a Cero” in Ohio – put the USMNT atop the Concacaf standings halfway through World Cup qualifying. It also was a signature win for these young Americans and, just maybe, the entire U.S. men’s program.

But with another World Cup qualifier on Tuesday in Jamaica, the USMNT will have to, in the words of Ted Lasso, “be a goldfish” and forget about what just happened. Spend too much time reveling in the victory over El Tri, and the Americans will squander the opportunity in front of them.

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“This game’s behind us now,” said Christian Pulisic, who broke a scoreless tie with a header in the 74th, five minutes after he came into the game. “It’s huge to help us get three points, and now we’re first place in the group. To be in this position is unbelievable, but we haven’t accomplished our ultimate goal yet.”

The top three teams in Concacaf advance to next year’s World Cup in Qatar, while the fourth-place team goes to a playoff. Teams are already separating themselves, with both the USMNT and Mexico having 14 points and Costa Rica, Jamaica and El Salvador just six each.

Honduras lags even further behind, with three points.

But only three points stand between the U.S. men and Panama, the fourth-place team. That’s the same advantage Mexico had going into Friday night’s game and, two hours later, it was gone.

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So the Americans can’t afford to take anything for granted, particularly when Concacaf road games are a crapshoot. With the rowdy fans, scraggly fields and brutal travel schedules, having a team that’s mentally sharp and locked in matters as much, and sometimes more, than one loaded with talent.

“For us, it’s about how quickly can we get over this win. And by get over I mean get back down to ground and focused on what the next task is,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “Same thing when we lose a game, it’s about how do we refocus and get that energy out.

“We want to turn around and have strong performance in Jamaica.”

Though Pulisic is one of the few Americans left from the group that failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, that debacle has left a mark on the entire group. They know all too well not to take anything for granted, as well as the importance of every last point.

Midfielder Weston McKennie (8) celebrates his goal with forward Christian Pulisic (10) during Friday's FIFA World Cup Qualifier against the Mexico.Midfielder Weston McKennie (8) celebrates his goal with forward Christian Pulisic (10) during Friday's FIFA World Cup Qualifier against the Mexico.
Midfielder Weston McKennie (8) celebrates his goal with forward Christian Pulisic (10) during Friday’s FIFA World Cup Qualifier against the Mexico.

Had the Americans won just one more game, at home or on the road, they would have gone to Russia. Instead, they sat home, missing the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

“Our confidence is through the roof, but the most important thing is stay modest, stay humble,” said Tim Weah, who had the assist on Pulisic’s goal. “Concacaf is hard. Any game in football — the ball is round, so you can lose some, you can win some.

“We just have to go off the positives,” Weah said. “We all feel good right now. There are no egos on the team. Somebody gets injured, the next guy’s ready. It’s a good vibe.”

That mentality, and the USMNT’s enviable depth, will be tested against Jamaica.

The Americans are already without Sergino Dest (back) and Gio Reyna (hamstring), and Pulisic’s minutes are likely to be limited again as he works his way back from the sprained ankle that kept him out for two months. Now Weston McKennie and Miles Robinson will miss Tuesday night’s game because of yellow card accumulation.

Just as the USMNT can’t think too much about what it gained Friday, it cannot dwell on what it has lost, either. The only thing that matters is reaching the World Cup.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USMNT: Follow Ted Lasso’s advice after Mexico World Cup qualifying win


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