The national soccer team is on a nervous home straight in its bid to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.
El Tri, as the team is commonly known, has three qualifying games remaining and sits in third place in the Concacaf (Confederation of North, Central America and Caribbean Association Football) standings.
However, a win by either Panama or Costa Rica could see the national team lose the opportunity to compete among the world’s 32 best soccer nations in November.
Only the top three of the eight Concacaf nations will automatically qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth-placed team has a chance to qualify through an inter-confederation playoff match.
Mexico’s team faces the United States — a team they’ve already lost to three times in the space of a year — on Thursday at Mexico City’s Aztec Stadium at 8 p.m. They lost 2-0 in a qualifying game in November and fell short twice to their closest rivals earlier in 2021 in other tournaments.
The U.S. is tied in the standings with Mexico with 21 points, but is ahead on goal difference. At the top of the standings is Canada with 25 points, meaning it has all but qualified.
Mexico’s dreams of Qatar were looking particularly shaky near the end of January when the team played out a stalemate at home to Costa Rica, but a crucial 1-0 victory over Panama on February 2 will have come as sweet relief to the country’s soccer faithful.
El Tri faces Honduras away on March 27 before its final qualifying game at home to El Salvador on March 30.
If the team drops four points from its final three games, players’ plane tickets to the Middle East could be in jeopardy. If they can win two matches out of three, they’ll be safe.
The Stars and Stripes will be without a full strength lineup for Thursday’s match after Juventus player Weston McKennie and Barcelona’s Sergiño Dest were forced to pull out because of injury.
El Tri won’t be at full strength either: goalkeeper Jonathan Orozco and midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro have both ruled themselves out of the match.