Christian Pulisic came off the bench to fuel the United States’ 2-0 win over rivals Mexico in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Friday.

Pulisic, who is still regaining full fitness after an ankle injury, entered the blockbuster showdown in the 69th minute and the Chelsea star broke the deadlock five minutes later in Cincinnati.

After being dropped in September for breaching USA’s COVID-19 protocol, Weston McKennie scored the decisive second with five minutes remaining before team-mate Miles Robinson was sent off in the final minute of regulation.

The result means USA – who missed the 2018 World Cup – draw level on points with Mexico but move ahead on goal difference at the top of the standings after seven games, having snapped El Tri’s unbeaten start in qualifying.

USA have now beaten Mexico three times this calendar year, achieving the feat for the first time since 1937.

Mexico came close to opening the scoring in the 19th minute when Hirving Lozano tested USA goalkeeper Zach Steffen with a low effort.

Lozano crossed for El Tri team-mate Jesus Corona, who also volleyed wide at the back post on the half-hour mark, with Mexico in control in the first half.

Juventus midfielder McKennie stung the palms of Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa early in the second half as USA started to take charge.

With 16 minutes remaining, USA took the lead as substitute Pulisic glanced in Timothy Weah’s cross.

McKennie then doubled USA’s advantage in the 85th minute, coolly slotting home from inside the box before Robinson saw red for a second bookable offence following a cynical foul.

What does it mean? USA leapfrog El Tri

USA have taken a big step towards Qatar 2022, edging ahead of Mexico (both 14 points) on goal difference with seven games to play. Canada are one point back in the third automatic qualification spot, with Panama in the play-off positions in fourth on 11 points.

Perfect Pulisic contribution

Pulisic has only made two league appearances for Chelsea this season due to an ankle injury, but he made the perfect impact in his 20-minute cameo. He scored his 17th international goal, tying him with Michael Bradley, DaMarcus Beasley and Earnie Stewart for ninth place on USA’s all-time scoring charts.

Mexico on wrong end of rivalry

Mexico have lost three times to their rivals this year, going down 3-2 in June’s CONCACAF Nations League final, 1-0 in August’s Gold Cup final and 2-0 in Friday’s qualifier. All three games were played in the United States, however, the trio of defeats will sting for Tata Martino’s side, who will be eyeing of March’s reverse fixture.

What’s next?

USA face sixth-placed Jamaica in qualifying in Kingston on Tuesday, while Mexico have a difficult away trip to unbeaten Canada.