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Mexico extend lead, U.S. move up to third

Howard, who past year left Everton for the Colorado Rapids, won his 79th cap against Mexico and has gone on to play another 35 worldwide games, leapfrogging fellow us legends Brad Friedel, Tony Meola and Kasey Keller to become the most-capped netminder in USA history. These are the two titans of CONCACAF, and when they play in competitive fixtures, every touch feels titanic. "We have a sense of where guys will be after this game tonight and realize we'll need some new bodies on the field on Sunday". There's a lot at stake for both, of course, but one team is cruising to Russian Federation, while the other is getting over institutional crises and shoddy performances-one Dortmund teenager aside-on the way to what will be a nervy last handful of Hex games. The U.S. sits in the third and final World Cup qualifying spot in the CONCACAF hexagonal after the first five games. Leading teams in the region are involved in the last two. He's versatile and has been most valuable on the backline, but Bruce Arena's plan is to use the Borussia Moenchengladbach as a flank midfielder, his natural position and one in which he can offer far more to the US side. The German-born striker had already represented the US in qualifying for the 1966 and 1970 FIFA World Cups and with 13 caps, was the most senior member of the team that faced El Trí that day.

Whether Pulisic's individual brilliance can make the difference between this and previous trips to Azteca is unclear.

Having completed 4 rounds in the qualification of the fifth stage, Mexico has earned 10 points and is still defeated. In home games in 2017, Mexico won the victory over Iceland, Costa Rica and Ireland, and also lost to Croatia in late May. With the Panama draw with Costa Rica, Mexico also extends their lead on top of the Hex to five points. The team then had a pretty disappointing start to the 2018 World Cup qualifiers, suffering back to back defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica, and the two results ultimately saw Jurgen Klinsmann lose his job. Mexico is coming off a 3-0 win over Honduras. We think the world of them. Their overall record was 5-2-3, which is a reasonable target for this team to achieve, if a loss to Mexico is predicted. Chances are that both teams would settle for a share of spoils and we are backing the bitter rivals to cancel each other out. 8 points (2 wins, 2 draws, 2 defeats).

But Arena also said he is well aware of how hard Sunday's game will be. Coming off a strong two-goal performance in a game the USA had to win, and in which he showed no signs of fatigue, there's no better time to trust Pulisic. And if you were to look at the Hexagonal table for 2018 Russian Federation, you'd see much of the same: Mexico undefeated at the top, with the U.S. recovering from a couple of bad losses to assert dominance and climb back up the table to its rightful top 2 spot, Costa Rica be damned.

No amount of Bruce Arena confidence, altitude adjustments or Christian Pulisic guarantees changes the math of the Hex, even if the USMNT's path has been bumpier than usual.

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