The U.S. Men's National Team came to Mexico City to play Mexico facing 75 years of history and the rising momentum of Mexican soccer. In 75 years of trying, the MNT had never won away to Mexico. 24 games resulted in a 0-23-1 record. Furthermore, the Estadio Azteca was the site of the match, and practically an indomitable fortress. To add to all of that, talk of a gap between Mexico and the U.S. had grown loud due to Mexico's Olympic gold in London, two straight Gold Cup final wins over the U.S., and winning the U-17 World Cup.
But nothing is written in stone in soccer regardless of how convincing statistics and records might seem. The MNT got an 80th goal from defender Michael Orozco Fiscal and got two spectacular stops late from keeper Tim Howard to preserve a 1-0 victory. Make that 1-23-1 now.
The "gap" talk was frankly deserved. Mexico's performance in big games and tournaments both at the senior and youth levels has bested the U.S. frequently in recent years. Though both teams were eliminated from the World Cup in the Round of 16, the U.S. surprisingly did not manage to qualify for the Olympics, in contrast to Mexico's gold medal. The U.S. lost in the Round of 16 in the last U-17 World Cup, which Mexico won. In the 2011 Gold Cup final the U.S. jumped out to an early 2-0 lead only to give up four unanswered goals to Mexico. That game made Mexico seem far better than the U.S.
Mexico started fast in this game as had to be expected. But Howard was not really threatened in the first half and did not even have to make a save. The MNT, though, had very little sustained possession. Midfielder Michael Bradley's presence in the central midfield was sorely missed.
Mexico attacked even harder in the second half. It seemed like the U.S. defense, featuring Maurice Edu in central defense, was tiring in the high altitude. Star Mexican striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez appeared close to breaking through.
Then midfielder Brek Shea, a surprising pick for the team due to some issues with his club team, came on for Hercules Gomez in the 78th minute. Shortly after, Shea attacked a Mexican defender Severo Meza on the left corner of the box, cut inside through his legs and crossed the ball into the middle at the touchline. Sub Terrence Boyd collected the ball inside the six-yard box with his back to goal as Mexico scrambled. He managed to backheel the ball in the direction of Fiscal, who didn't get much on the ball but managed to roll it past the defender on the goal line.
Hernandez had two fantastic chances to tie it late. An open volley inside the top of the box was deflected to Howard's left, after he had already committed right. Showing amazing athleticism he was able to scamper back and get a hand on the ball, then collect the rebound. Hernandez had another great chance on a header in tight, but Howard dove left and got a paw on it. The ball was cleared away after some tense moments.
It was by no means a dominating performance (Mexico had the better of play) and neither team was at full strength. Mexico, though, had a fuller squad and expected to win and continue their momentum going deeper into World Cup qualifying. The U.S. stopped that and gave themselves momentum for qualifying. Some things still need to be greatly improved (I don't understand the appeal of Jermaine Jones at all), but it is a historic victory for the USMNT, and a statement that the "gap" can be closed.
Scott Frano is a longtime fan of the USMNT and is eager to see where Clint Dempsey ends up this season.
"US beats Mexico in Mexico for 1st time," Michael Weissenstein, AP