EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The soccer gap between Mexico and the United States is far wider than the Rio Grande that separates the nations.
Exactly a year before the start of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, Mexico handed the Americans their most one-sided loss in the rivalry since 2009.
Javier Hernández scored after U.S. newcomer Sergiño Dest was nutmegged in the 21st minute, and Érick Gutiérrez and Uriel Antuna added late goals in a 3-0 exhibition win Friday night.
“We still play with fear against them, and that is what I can’t really live with,” U.S. star Christian Pulisic said. “That needs to change.”
Mexico took control after an even first 20 minutes.
Gutiérrez made it 2-0 in the 78th, a minute after entering, when goalkeeper Zack Steffen tried to play a backpass short to Alfredo Morales, who allowed Héctor Herrera to poke the ball to Gutiérrez for an open 18-yard shot that resulted in his first international goal. Antuna added an 82nd-minute goal on a counterattack after Hirving Lozano dribbled by Morales, who returned to the U.S. team for the first time since May 2016.
The Americans, still trying to rebound from their failure to reach last year’s World Cup, lost to Mexico by three goals for the first time since a 5-0 defeat in the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup final. El Tri beat the U.S. 1-0 two months ago in the latest Gold Cup final and has won four of the last six meetings, with one draw.
“You guys are going to think I’m crazy, I’m happier about this game than I am about the Gold Cup final,” U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter said. “In the Gold Cup final, I felt like all we did was play the ball long and that was our only solution. And now at least we tried to play in the way that we’re envisioning.”
Berhalter used just five starters from the Gold Cup final and Mexico coach Tata Martinez two as many of his regulars returned. Berhalter pointed to better possession and passing accuracy, but still the Americans were outshot 10-6 and Berhalter admitted the attack “kind of stalled” in the final third.
“We have to go and play like we’re good enough to be out there, be confident and play without thinking twice about it,” Pulisic said. “That’s how it needs to be, and that’s just not where we’re at right now.”
Steffen, who played under Berhalter in Columbus, believes in the coach’s build-from-the-back system.
“We’re going to eat goals, but it’s a process,” Steffen said. “You could definitely see where we need to improve and come together more and really trust one another and be brave and just be fearless.”
Morales hit a post in the 80th minute, and when the U.S. was awarded a penalty kick, Pulisic handed the ball to 19-year-old Josh Sargent. The forward’s 88th-minute attempt was stopped by Jonathan Orozco, who dived to his right.
“Christian felt very confident in myself,” Sargent said. “I was unfortunate not to make that one, but it happens and I look forward to the next one.”
Dest, an 18-year-old who has gained playing time for Ajax this season, started at left back and became the third American born in the 2000s to play for the national team after Tim Weah and Sargent.
“He lacked a little bit of aggressiveness going forward when Christian was coming inside. But overall pleased with his performance,” Berhalter said.
Dest can switch to the Netherlands if he doesn’t play a competitive match for the U.S. He had a curling 25-yard shot in the 14th minute that was punched away.
Jesús Corona created the first goal when he dribbled past Pulisic, played the ball through the legs of Dest, then took a touch and made an open cross to an unmarked Hernández. Chicharito’s diving header from 8 yards was his 52nd international goal.
“It was a great action from him,” Dest said. “I don’t think I played a bad game or something, but it was just that moment was crucial. I have to learn from it.”
U.S. defender John Brooks did not dress because of a tight right groin and Morales left in the 90th minute after hurting his right leg. He was limping after the game and was scheduled for an MRI Saturday.
HERE TODAY, GONE TOMORROW
In addition to Brooks and Morales, four other players will miss Tuesday’s exhibition against Uruguay in St. Louis and return to their clubs: Pulisic, Steffen, midfielder Weston McKennie and backup goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
Defender Miles Robinson made his U.S. debut in the 58th minute.
Mexican midfielder Rodolfo Pizarro had surgery Friday night following appendicitis.
Martino is 11-0 since taking over this year as Mexico’s coach — with all the matches played in the U.S. His 14th game will be his first at home, a Nations League match versus Panama on Oct. 16.
The game drew 47,960 to MetLife Stadium, where the upper deck was closed. The total was up from 32,469 for last September’s friendly at the venue against Brazil but down from 78,936 for a 2011 match against Argentina and 77,223 for a 2010 friendly against Brazil.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard, who is retiring at the end of the MLS season, was honored by the U.S. Soccer Federation before the game, part of a new program to acknowledge men and women who made at least 100 international appearances and were on the rosters for two senior world championships, including World Cups and Olympics. The 40-year-old, who made 121 appearances, does not want to coach but would like to be in management. Of the open U.S. men’s general manager position vacated when Earnie Stewart was promoted, he said: “I want to stay in the game at a very high level,” Howard said. “For my country, anything.”
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