CARSON -- Alan Pulido picked up where Marco Fabian de la Mora left off, scoring a hat trick to lead Mexico's under-23 national team into the semifinals of CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament.
A victory March 31 in Kansas City, Kan. -- likely against the United States -- sends El Tri to London.
Pulido tallied in the 13th and 40th minutes, then netted a third just 41 seconds into the second half as Mexico (2-0-0) routed Honduras, 3-0, Sunday in front of 16,184 cold, wet fans at Home Depot Center to assume command of the Group B race with one last set of doubleheaders remaining.
Panama and Trinidad & Tobago drew, 1-1, in the opener, keeping alive their diminishing hopes to advance.
Keeping tabs on the road to London:
Pulido, from UANL Tigres, scored two superb individual goals in the first half, then first-timed a cross from Cruz Azul's Javier Aquino following Monterrey defender Hiram Mier's long ball up the right flank as Mexico, sharp and explosive, dominated its stiffest group rival.
The victory should be enough to give El Tri the B title -- their goal difference, at plus-9, is too much for Hondurans (1-1-0, with a minus-1 difference) to overcome, even with a lopsided win over Trinidad & Tobago in Tuesday's opener -- and that likely means a showdown with the U.S. (1-1-0), which after Saturday's shocking loss to Canada needs to beat El Salvador (1-0-1) in the Group A finale to ensure a final four berth.
Neither Mexico nor Honduras would relish a winner-takes-all clash with the Americans, but El Tri's form -- and the U.S.'s loss of star striker Juan Agudelo -- makes them a substantial favorite if that's the way things play out.
Pulido scored from an abrupt angle, from the right side of Honduras' box, to provide an early lead, then unleashed from just above the semicircle -- a bending shot toward the upper-right corner -- to double the advantage just before halftime. He nearly scored a fourth in the 56th, but his chip just cleared the crossbar and landed on the roof of the goal.
Guadalajara's Marco Fabian, who fed Pulido's second goal, netted a hat trick in Mexico's 7-1 romp Friday night over Trinidad & Tobago. Pulido scored the first goal in that one.
Panama, which faces Mexico in Tuesday's closer, saw its chances dwindle after conceding a stoppage-time equalizer in Sunday's first game. Shahdon Winchester knocked home the rebound after defender Rolando Algandona blocked Kevin Molino's drive in the 93rd minute.
Cecilio Waterman redirected Anibal Godoy's shot to give Panama a 69th-minute lead after T&T goalkeeper Andre Marchan, playing despite a concussion, weakly punched a cross into the middle of his box. Panama appeared to score on an own goal near the finish after Marchan dropped the ball in front of his net, but Puerto Rican referee Javier Santos waved it off for reasons that were not apparent.
Group A is back Monday, with that U.S.-El Salvador game deciding at least one semifinalist. Canada grabs the other with a win or tie against Cuba.
Because the Olympics are a FIFA event, rather than a CONCACAF competition, the first tiebreaker is goal difference rather than head-to-head results. (We're all for goal difference being the first tiebreaker in all tournaments.) What this means is if the U.S. and El Salvador draw and Canada is upset by Cuba, the U.S. and El Salvador would advance to the semifinals. Under head-to-head rules, Canada would advance in such a scenario and the U.S. would be done.
The Americans will know what is required when they take the field, but they're heavy favorites in every Group A game, even in the loss to Canada.
Group B wraps up at HDC on Tuesday, with Mexico and Honduras expected to cement their final-four spots as B1 and B2.
GROUP A (Nashville, Tenn.)
1. El Salvador 1-0-1 (4-0) 4 points
2. Canada 1-0-1 (2-0) 4 points
3. United States 1-1-0 (6-2 GF-GA) 3 points
4. Cuba 0-2-0 (0-10) 0 points
Canada 0, El Salvador 0
United States 4 (Corona 11, 40, 88, Agudelo 37, own goal Diz Pe 43, Adu 62), Cuba 0
El Salvador 4 (Blanco 4, Flores 53, 80, Mendjivar 68), Cuba 0
United States 0, Canada 2 (Henry 58, Cavallini 82)
Canada vs. Cuba, 3:30 p.m. (Mun2)
United States vs. El Salvador, 6 p.m. (Universal Sports/Mun2)
GROUP B (Home Depot Center)
1. Mexico 2-0-0 (10-1 GF-GA) 6 points
2. Honduras 1-1-0 (3-4) 3 points
3. Panama 0-1-1 (2-4) 1 point
4. Trinidad & Tobago 0-1-1 (2-8) 1 point
Honduras 3 (Hernandez 19, Martinez 47, Lopez 87), Panama 1 (Glaize 55)
Mexico 7 (Pulido 29, Marco Fabian 33, 69, 85, Reyes 51, Jimenez 75, Cortes 91+), Trinidad & Tobago 1 (Molino 87)
Panama 1 (Godoy 69), Trinidad & Tobago (Winchester 93+)
Mexico 3 (Pulido 13, 40, 46), Honduras 0
Honduras vs. Trinidad & Tobago, 6 p.m. (Mun2)
Mexico vs. Panama, 8:30 p.m. (Telemundo)
FINAL FOUR (Kansas City, Kan.)
Saturday, March 31
B1 vs. A2, 3 p.m.
A1 vs. B2, 6 p.m.
Monday, April 2
Final, 5 p.m.
All times Pacific