Earthquakes

US battle for hard-earned point at Azteca vs Mexico in WC qualifier

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AP

US battle for hard-earned point at Azteca vs Mexico in WC qualifier

MEXICO CITY — Michael Bradley scored a stunning early goal from about 40 yards and the U.S. hung on for a 1-1 tie against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday night, gaining only its third point at Azteca Stadium as coach Bruce Arena changed seven starters and used a five-man defense to overcome the thin air and short recovery time.

Bradley put the U.S. ahead in the sixth minute when he deflected a poor backpass by Mexican star Javier Hernandez and created his own breakaway.

Carlos Vela tied the score in the 23rd minute with a 23-yard shot that beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan to the near post, and Hector Herrera nearly put El Tri ahead in the 71st with a 30-yard free kick that rebounded off the crossbar.

With its second draw in three road qualifiers, the U.S. continued to recover from its awful 0-2 start last fall and prompted chants of "U-S-A!" from the American Outlaws section in the upper deck.

"It's a shame to give away the goal that we did," Bradley said. "Any time you can get a point here it's great. ... Now we can move ourselves forward."

Mexico leads the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region with 14 points, followed by Costa Rica (eight), the U.S. (seven), Panama (six), Honduras (four) and Trinidad and Tobago three. The top three advance to next year's World Cup in Russia, and the fourth-place team faces Asia's No. 5 nation in a playoff.

Panama hosts Honduras on Tuesday, when Costa Rica is home against T&T.

Mexico was trying to sweep the Americans in a qualifying cycle for the first time 1972. The U.S. was 0-19-1 in Mexico City — getting outscored 81-14 — before a 1-0 exhibition win in 2012. The U.S. held Mexico to 0-0 in qualifiers at Azteca in 1997 and 2013,

With Estadio Azteca at 7,820 feet above sea level and just two off days between games, Arena paid close attention to recovery time and tested his roster's depth.

Bradley, one of just four holdovers in the U.S. starting lineup from Thursday night's 2-0 home win over Trinidad, stunned the boisterous crowd of about 81,000. Hector Moreno passed to Hernandez, who passed back for Herrera in the center circle.

Reading the play, Bradley quickly stepped up and knocked the ball toward Mexico's goal. Bradley sprinted to catch up with the ball, and when he reached it lofted a right-footed shot from about 40 yards over goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa's outstretched left arm and under the crossbar. An exuberant Bradley ran to the endline and raised the badge on his jersey to the several thousand red-white-and-blue-clad fans.

He became just the fifth American to score at Azteca, joining Michael Orozco (2012), Charlie Davies (2009), Eddie Lewis (2005), Ricky Davis (1980), Willy Roy (1972).

Bobby Wood failed in to knock in an open shot from close range that could have made it 2-0, and Vela scored on a counterattack. Ochoa made a long outlet throw to Hernandez, who passed to Vela on the right flank. He dribbled around DaMarcus Beasley and across the top of the penalty area, and from the arc beat Guzan.

Fans booed and whistled "The Star-Spangled Banner," as usual when the Americans play in Mexico, and there was an occasional T-shirt disparaging U.S. President Donald Trump.

A downpour began during second-half injury time.

Guzan took over in goal from Tim Howard, and Beasley, Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez joined the back line in a 5-4-1 formation. Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola were in midfield and Wood at forward. In addition to Bradley, 18-year-old midfielder Christian Pulisic remained in the lineup along with right back DeAndre Yedlin and center back Geoff Cameron.

Beasley at 35 became the first American to appear in qualifiers of five World Cup cycles. He had not started for the U.S. since the October 2015 loss to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth..

Mexico was trying to sweep the Americans in a qualifying cycle for the first time 1972.

Bradley is encouraged by the Americans' progress under Arena.

"Look, we were pretty honest with ourselves and we had let a lot of little things drop," he said.

Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

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Shocker: US Men's National Team eliminated from World Cup contention

COUVA, Trinidad — Twenty-eight years after one of the United States' most important victories came in stunning fashion at Trinidad to end a four-decade World Cup absence, the Americans' chances for the 2018 tournament in Russia ended on this island nation off the coast of Venezuela.

The U.S. was eliminated from World Cup contention Tuesday night, a shocking 2-1 loss to Trinidad and Tobago ending a run of seven straight American appearances at soccer's showcase.

The Soca Warriors scored a pair of first-half goals, getting one off U.S. defender Omar Gonzalez, and the United States made too many other mistakes to recover. The Americans are out of the World Cup for the first time since 1986.

"We let down an entire nation today," Gonzalez said.

Shocked American players slumped on the bench, and Matt Besler sat on the field after the final whistle as Panama's game ended and then Costa Rica's. At the end, dejected U.S. players filed into their locker rooms with blank looks.

"We foolishly brought Trinidad into the game with the own goal," coach Bruce Arena said. "That was a big goal for Trinidad psychologically. That got them motivated."

The U.S. entered its final qualifier with a berth uncertain for the first time since 1989. Home losses to Mexico last November and Costa Rica left the Americans little margin for error.

The 28th-ranked Americans needed merely a tie against 99th-ranked Trinidad, which lost its sixth straight qualifier last week. But the defeat — coupled with Honduras' come-from-behind 3-2 win over Mexico and Panama's 2-1 victory over Costa Rica on Ramon Torres' 88th-minute goal — dropped the Americans from third place into fifth in the six-nation final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

Mexico and Costa Rica already had clinched berths, and Panama claimed the third and final automatic spot and will go the World Cup for the first time. Honduras will meet Australia in a two-game playoff next month for another spot at next year's 32-nation tournament.

Missing the World Cup is a devastating blow to the U.S. Soccer Federation, which has steadily built the sport in the last quarter-century with the help of sponsors and television partners. It also is a trauma for Fox, which broadcasts the next three World Cups after taking the U.S. rights from ESPN. The USSF hopes to co-host the 2026 tournament with Mexico and Canada, and Morocco is the only other bidder.

After an 0-2 start in the hexagonal last fall under Jurgen Klinsmann, the USSF replaced him last November with Arena, the American coach from 1998-2006. The team revived with home wins over Honduras and Trinidad last spring and draws at Panama and Mexico. But the 2-0 defeat to Costa Rica in New Jersey at the start of Labor Day weekend proved one hurdle too many to overcome.

The Americans fell behind in the 17th minute when Gonzalez made a casual attempt with his left foot to clear Alvin Jones' cross and sent the ball looping over the outstretched right arm of goalkeeper Tim Howard from 18 yards.

Jones doubled the lead in the 37th with a 35-yard strike, again to Howard's upper right corner, and nearly scored another in the 44th when his swerving shot bounced off Howard's chest and spilled into the penalty area.

Christian Pulisic, the Americans' 19-year-old star midfielder, scored in the 47th minute from the arc with a right-footed shot. He played a role in 12 of the 17 American goals in the hexagonal.

One minute later, Howard made a kick save on Shahdon Winchester's short-range shot, and DeAndre Yedlin blocked Levi Garcia's follow-up attempt.

The U.S. bench was tense, as Honduras scored twice early in the second half to take the lead over visiting Mexico in the 60th minute and Panama tied the score against visiting Costa Rica in the 52nd.

Clint Dempsey, who entered at the start of the second half, was denied by goalkeeper Adrian Foncette's leaping save in the 69th and hit a post from 22 yards in the 77th. Pulisic's shot in the 87th was saved by Foncette.

All American reserves were standing for much of the final minutes, and Arena had repeated exasperated looks.

"No excuses for us not getting the second goal and at least a point," Arena said. "It's a blemish for us."

Just a few hundred fans were in the stands at 10,000-capacity Ato Boldon Stadium, located 24 miles south of the capital, Port-of-Spain. Paul Caligiuri's famous goal at the National Stadium in 1989 put the U.S. in the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

Among the spectators were a few dozen American Outlaws, the U.S. supporters group.

Water that had flooded the track surrounding the field ahead of the U.S. training session Monday was gone.

USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama

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AP

USMNT back on track with 4-0 pounding of Panama

ORLANDO, Fla. — Teenage star Christian Pulisic scored with a brilliant touch to complete a field-length attack just eight minutes in, then split the defense with a pass that set up Jozy Altidore for the first of the forward's two goals and put the United States back on track for next year's World Cup with a 4-0 rout of Panama on Friday night.

Pulisic fed Altidore for a 2-0 lead in the 19th. Altidore converted a penalty kick with a chip in the 43rd after Bobby Wood was fouled, and Wood added a goal in the 63rd.

The U.S. ended a three-match winless streak in qualifying and with 12 points and moved two points ahead of Panama into third place — the last automatic berth — in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Honduras has nine points going into its match Saturday at Costa Rica, which is second with 15.

Goal difference means the Americans put themselves in great shape to reach an eighth straight World Cup, almost certainly with a win Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago and likely with a draw if Honduras fails to win Saturday. The U.S. is plus-five to minus-two for Panama and minus-seven for Honduras.

The region's fourth-place team advances to a playoff next month against Australia or Syria.

"We could have finished better on the day and scored more goals," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.

Playing his first international match since he turned 19 last month, Pulisic was moved to central midfield from the flanks by coach Bruce Arena and sparked the attack from the opening whistle with pace and ball control seldom seen from Americans.

After Gabriel Gomez broke free from Omar Gonzalez and shot over the crossbar, Tim Howard's goal kick was headed forward by Bobby Wood about 10 yards past midfield.

Altidore one-timed the ball ahead to on a sprinting Pulisic, and the midfielder reached back with his left leg to flick the ball ahead. Pulisic jumped to avoid Roman Torres' challenge and used the outside of his right foot to play the ball forward. As goalkeeper Jaime Penedo came off his line, Pulisic used the outside of his right foot again to play the ball wide and jumped over Pinedo's outstretched arm. At the edge of the 6-yard box and just 2 yards from the endline, Pulisic reached with his right foot to slot the ball in, completing a 112-yard U.S. move. Pulisic tumbled over as the ball rolled in for his eighth goal in 19 international appearances, his fourth in the hex.

Pulisic created the second goal when he played the ball between his feet and faked Michael Murillo on the left flank Pulisic broke ahead and fed Altidore, who split the center backs and redirected the ball in from 5 yards for his first goal of the hexagonal. At that point, Pulisic had played a part in 11 of the Americans' 14 goals in the hex.

After Wood and Altidore failed to convert good chances, Wood drew the penalty kick when he exchanged passes with Paul Arriola along a flank, broke past Felipe Baloy, spurted diagonally into the penalty area and was pushed down by Armando Cooper. As Pinedo dived to his left, Altidore chipped the ball down the center for his 41st international game.

Hacked down several times by Panamanians, Pulisic was removed in the 57th minute and walked out to a standing ovation from the sellout crowd of 25,303 at Orlando City Stadium, which opened in February,

Wood added his 10th international goal off a pass from Arriola.

Panama was trying to move into position to qualify for its first World Cup. The Panamanians were 90 seconds from advancing to a playoff against New Zealand four years ago, when Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson scored late goals at Honduras, which dropped Panama behind Mexico and into fifth place.