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Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie score to give USMNT 2-0 win over Mexico in World Cup qualifying

It was one of the U.S.’ best performances against Mexico in recent memory, and at the end of the night, the Americans stood atop the World Cup qualifying standings.

Weston McKennie (center) celebrates with fellow scorer Christian Pulisic (right) and Tyler Adams (left) after delivering the United States' second goal.
Weston McKennie (center) celebrates with fellow scorer Christian Pulisic (right) and Tyler Adams (left) after delivering the United States' second goal.Read moreJulio Cortez / AP

CINCINNATI — “Dos a Cero” is back.

Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie struck late in the second half of a dominant American performance to give the U.S. men’s soccer team a win over arch-rival Mexico by its favorite scoreline, 2-0, before a jammed-to-the-roof crowd of 26,000 at TQL Stadium.

The game simmered early, with the U.S. defense repelling Mexican forays and the attack creating chances that fizzled out. But the heat slowly grew, and the shots and tackles started flying at both ends. Downingtown’s Zack Steffen made two fine saves in the American net, and Medford’s Brenden Aaronson lit some sparks in Mexico’s 18-yard box.

The second half jumped to boiling right out of the gate, as Antonee Robinson, McKennie, and Yunus Musah fired quality shots in the first five minutes. To the side of the net that the ball was flying toward, Pulisic watched and warmed up as he prepared to come in as a substitute.

At the focal point of the U.S. attack, Ricardo Pepi understandably looked a bit nervous at times as he played his first game against the country of his family’s heritage. Mexico also made a point of keying on him, to no one’s surprise.

» READ MORE: If you don’t know about U.S. men’s soccer rising star Ricardo Pepi yet, it’s time to pay attention

Pulisic’s time to enter came in the 69th minute, after Aaronson was fouled (including a poke in the face by Mexico’s Luis “Chaka” Rodríguez) while darting around the left flank. But before he did, there was an old-fashioned mass gathering of the two teams at the scene of the crime — including Steffen coming halfway up the field to offer a few words, for which he received a yellow card.

McKennie also got booked, which will put him out of Tuesday’s game at Jamaica (5 p.m., Universo and Paramount+) due to yellow card accumulation.

The breakthrough finally came in the 74th minute, and it came from Pulisic. Musah sprung Tim Weah down the right wing, and he served up an inch-perfect cross that the Hershey native charged in to head perfectly past Guillermo Ochoa. (Weah, by the way, was superb all night.)

McKennie struck in the 85th with a turn and finish from close range. Within seconds, the American fans’ chant that has electrified this rivalry for two decades was back in the air. So was a sense of home-field pride for the U.S., which saw a streak of four straight 2-0 World Cup qualifying wins over Mexico in Columbus – plus a 2-0 win abroad in the 2002 World Cup – snapped in 2016.

The celebrations halted in the 90th minute when Miles Robinson was ejected for earning a second yellow card. He’ll miss the Jamaica game too, likely to be replaced by Chris Richards, who was promptly sent in for Weah after Robinson’s dismissal.

After that, the party resumed. Though the scoreline was familiar, qualitatively this was one of the Americans’ best performances against Mexico in recent memory. And at the end of the night, the U.S. stood atop the World Cup qualifying standings.

» READ MORE: Zack Steffen was quietly outstanding in the USMNT’s statement win over Mexico