"Lambs being led to slaughter" was my first thought upon seeing the US Men's National Team roster that was selected to face Mexico on Wednesday. After conversations with multiple fans and analysts earlier this week, I know I wasn't the only US supporter expecting an ugly and forgettable affair. A funny thing happened at Estadio Azteca, though, as a scrappy and physical US team defended brilliantly, got a ton of help from goalkeeper Tim Howard, and also scored what was somewhat of an ugly goal in order to earn a historic 1-0 victory.
ESPN commentator Ian Darke said it best: "Chicharito will see Tim Howard in his nightmares." Looking at the stats and match highlights alone, one might think that Howard's only moments came during the final ten minutes of play. While those two highlight reel saves will go down as two of the biggest stops in USMNT history, Howard deserves credit for his play in both halves. He came off his line to clean things up on multiple occasions during the first half, and he was as brave and as strong in clearing the ball from danger as I've ever seen from the American 'keeper. All things considered, I'd say Wednesday night was the best performance Howard has had while wearing a US shirt.
Mexico 0-1 United States: The boss
US Soccer fans are gushing over the play of Geoff Cameron the morning after the 1-0 upset. Because I'm an eternal pessimist, I first want to point out the two glaring miscues made by Cameron, mistakes that probably should have resulted in Chicharito finding the back of the net during the second half. Cameron was badly beaten on a run that gifted the Manchester United man a free header that was ultimately sent wide of the left post. A poor clearance from the new Stoke City defender also gave Chicharito a chance to strike from the outer edge of the box, but Howard came up with a memorable and heroic save.
Now with that out of the way, Cameron was the best US non-goalkeeper on the pitch on Wednesday evening. His physical play in and around the penalty area frustrated Chicharito and other Mexican attackers, and Cameron's aerial skills allowed him to clear multiple dangerous balls from outside the box. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Cameron's performance is that he recently hasn't had a ton of playing time due to working out the move to Europe. One solid match does not make a career, of course, but you can be sure that Cameron will be seeing some playing time in upcoming World Cup qualifiers.
Mexico 0-1 United States: The goal
Raise your hand if you had Brek Shea to Terrence Boyd to Michael Orozco Fiscal as the combination that would produce Wednesday's game-winner. Now all of you put your hands down because you're lying. Some fans argued over the weekend that Shea, who has had such a poor 2012 that some have begun to use the "overrated" word to describe the FC Dallas player, didn't even deserve a call-up this August, and Orozco Fiscal has routinely been chastised for his play while with the national team since Jurgen Klinsmann took over as manager last summer. Boyd has a boatload of potential, but he is merely a second half option for Klinsmann at this point.
The US goal begins with Kyle Beckerman locating Shea out on the left wing. Shea, showing confidence that has been lacking since 2011, then got around Severo Meza before entering the box. Shea slid the ball to Boyd, and Boyd held off two defenders and then tapped the ball with his left foot to his right before sending a back heel pass to Orozco Fiscal. Orozco Fiscal came dangerously close to either whiffing completely or tapping the ball to defender Jorge Torres Nilo, but his left-footed touch rolled right into the corner of the net. It was a "team goal" for the ages, one that helped erase seven decades of misery.
Mexico 0-1 United States: Perspective
Friendly or not, this was a massive win for the United States, a victory that forevermore erases the "no wins on Mexican soil" stat we always see and hear whenever these two teams meet. While Klinsmann acknowledged the significance of the win in his opening comments during the televised post-match interview, he was also quick to point out that the US were hardly perfect on Wednesday. Their inability to hold possession should have cost them dearly, and they were clearly missing the absent Michael Bradley. Jose Torres was an invisible man who only made appearances when gifting the ball away, we were again reminded that Danny Williams should never ever play out wide in this team, and Jermaine Jones picked up his obligatory yellow card. Wednesday was fun for the US players and for fans, but there's undeniably plenty of work left to be done.
With all of that said, Klinsmann's somewhat makeshift roster did something no American squad before them had ever done. Don't look now, but the Klinsmann-led USMNT have earned a draw against Mexico on home soil, and they've also picked up away wins at Slovenia, Italy and Mexico. We're a little over one year into the Klinsmann era.
I'm a fan.