MEXICO CITY – Four days ago, the United States' road to the 2014 World Cup looked perilous. After Tuesday night's 0-0 tie against Mexico, the Americans are back on track.
Fans inside Estadio Azteca went to great extremes to gain an advantage for the home team, directing highly dangerous green laser pointers at U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan. The laser pens, which doctors say can cause blindness, found Guzan as he prepared for goal kicks throughout the first half of the CONCACAF qualifier. But he wasn't the only target.
Forward Herculez Gomez also had a laser beam pointed at him early in the contest, although his back was turned at the time.
U.S. soccer officials were looking into the matter as of late Tuesday night and an official complaint to world governing body FIFA is possible.
"You deal with that," said Guzan. "It's obviously not ideal, but it happens in these kinds of places. When did I notice it? When did I not notice it? It is part of the environment when you come down to place like Azteca, so you can't let it affect you."
Despite the disruption, the U.S. defense held firm in the face of sustained pressure from a Mexican team desperate to kick-start its own qualifying campaign after two successive draws. The displeasure of the home fans was made further evident at the final whistle, when it booed its own team and launched a shower of beer cans and cups onto the field, as well as at the contingent of traveling American fans.
Mexico was aggrieved to be denied a penalty kick in the 77th minute when Maurice Edu collided with Mexico's Javier Aquino just outside the U.S. goal. No whistle was blown, and instead of a prime scoring chance, Mexico was awarded what turned into a harmless corner kick.
The home squad had several more golden chances to score in the waning minutes, but they either booted them wide or were thwarted by Guzan, who was outstanding in place of the injured Tim Howard.
Jurgen Klinsmann's visitors were on the back foot for the majority of the contest, with Mexico enjoying a series of clear chances to give itself the lead. Yet despite open opportunities for Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Giovani Dos Santos and Andres Guardado, there was no way through for the Mexican attacking machine.
If the U.S. appeared to be playing for the tie, it was for good reason. Never has the United States beaten Mexico in a World Cup qualifier on its home turf, and only once in six tries (in 1997) had it even earned a draw.
While the result was only enough to put the Americans into a three-way tie for second place in the six-team CONCACAF pool (from which three nations are certain to qualify), it has now crossed off two of its most difficult road games and is perhaps in the best position of all the six teams.
"We are in really good shape now," said DaMarcus Beasley, pressed into action at left back instead of his more familiar midfield role. "The next game is always important, but getting points away from home like this is huge. You don't qualify for the World Cup on one night or with one game, but this feels like a big step."
The U.S. now takes a break from international action until June, but following its disastrous opening-game defeat in Honduras, will feel far more confident about it chances of reaching the World Cup for the seventh straight time.
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