Jozy Altidore scored his third goal in three matches on Tuesday to help the US to a 2-0 victory over Panama and into the lead in 2014 World Cup qualifying in North America.
Altidore gave the hosts a 1-0 lead in the 36th minute, and Eddie Johnson, who plays for the hometown Seattle Sounders, made it 2-0 in the 53rd as Jurgen Klinsmann’s men moved to the top of the standings on 10 points in the six-nation final qualifying round for next year’s World Cup in Brazil.
The US are two points clear of Costa Rica and Mexico, who played to a goalless draw at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.
It was another uninspiring performance from Mexico, long a regional powerhouse in North and Central America and the Caribbean.
They have just one victory in the final round of qualifying and five draws — four of them scoreless.
Although their eight points are the same as Costa Rica’s, they have played one more match.
Honduras vaulted over Panama and into fourth place on seven points with a 2-0 victory over Jamaica in Tegucigalpa.
Goals from Oscar Garcia in the 10th minute and Roger Rojas in the 88th got the job done for Honduras.
Jamaica, who remain without a victory in the final round of qualifying, were reduced to 10 men in the 76th minute, when Adrian Mariappa was sent off.
The top three teams from the region will advance directly to the World Cup in Brazil, while the fourth-placed team will play New Zealand for a berth.
Altidore, who endured a two-year international scoring drought, has now scored in three straight matches for the US — starting with a friendly against Germany and in the 2-1 qualifying win at Jamaica on Friday.
Klinsmann had to make a couple of changes to the side that beat Jamaica, with Graham Zusi suspended and fellow midfielder Jermaine Jones out after suffering a concussion in Kingston.
Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson got the call and both made their marks.
Michael Bradley worked the ball out wide to Fabian Johnson, who sent a perfectly timed cross to Altidore, who was open at the far post and fired past Panamanian goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
Cameron contributed to Eddie Johnson’s second-half strike, floating a high pass toward the Seattle Sounders player, who controlled the ball and slotted a left-footed shot home.
Panama had few chances, Alberto Quintero’s shot at the end of the first half sailing over the crossbar.
In Mexico City, Costa Rica set the tone early, displaying disciplined defense and creating much the better chances in the first half.
Joel Campbell sped past past Mexico defender Maza Rodriguez and beat goalkeeper Jose Corona, only to hit the far post in the fourth minute. Campbell’s attempt in the 37th minute forced a diving save from Corona and Costa Rican captain Bryan Ruiz fired over the bar in the 41st.
Meanwhile, Mexico again struggled to create any real scoring opportunities, despite long stretches of possession.
Fans in the less-than-capacity crowd at Azteca were booing the home side by halftime.
Late in the second half they pelted Ruiz with objects as he tried to take a corner-kick.
Ruiz took advantage of the situation, letting the minutes tick off as Mexico’s players became increasingly agitated. By the end of the match, fans were calling for the ouster of Mexico manager Juan Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre.
Mexico heads this week to the Confederations Cup in Brazil with questions hanging over them.