032613_usmex_isi_usmntjt0326131293 John Todd/isiphotos.com
Direct from Mexico City

Heroic Defending Leads to Historic Draw in Azteca

Mexico had the better chances, and more of them, but the United States stood strong and earned a tough road point against its hated rival. Defensively, the Americans delivered a true gem.
BY John Godfrey Posted
March 27, 2013
12:30 AM
MEXICO CITY—Full moon. Full house. A match full of intrigue.

The United States men’s soccer team fought Mexico to a scoreless draw in front of 100,000-plus El Tri supporters at Estadio Azteca—a remarkable achievement for the Americans.

Mexico dominated possession for long stretches and had too many chances to count, but heroic defending from the entire American squad—particularly Omar Gonzalez—helped the U.S. earn a crucial point in this tense World Cup qualifier.

Did El Tri look faster, more dangerous, and, in a word, better? Absolutely. But they could not cash in, and the Americans were thrilled to get the result in such a hostile environment.

The United States came out on the front foot early on, maintaining possession in the early moments and probing the Mexican defense with at least an eye toward scoring. But they didn’t come close in the early going, due in large part to a well-organized Mexico back line.

In the eighth minute, however, the tide perceptibly shifted. Mexico strung together more than a dozen passes, and a clever ball sent Giovani dos Santos in on goal with only DaMarcus Beasley to beat. But Beasley, who plays for Puebla in Liga MX, stripped dos Santos cleanly and cleared the ball to safety.

It was quite the veteran play by the Indiana native who was playing in his 99th game for the U.S.

Less than a minute later, Mexico attacked down the right flank again, and this time Beasley was called for a foul on the edge of the penalty area. The ensuing free kick went wide, however, and the danger was averted.

In the 13th minute, an increasingly confident El Tri pushed forward again. After a string of quick passes, dos Santos once again found himself with the ball in a dangerous position. In fact, he had a clear chance on goal but elected to pass instead. Gonzalez intercepted and cleared the ball away.

In true heavyweight fight spirit, the U.S. immediately punched back. Deft interplay between Herculez Gomez and Jozy Altidore led to an early U.S. corner kick. Geoff Cameron got on the end of Graham Zusi’s spot kick and sent a low, hard cross toward the corner of the Mexican goal. But it flew wide, much to the delight of El Tri keeper Guillermo Ochoa.

Moments later, Javier Hernandez got on the inside of his defender and had a clear chance on goal, but his header flew over the crossbar. It was a disappointing effort from one of the best players in CONCACAF.

As the first half wore on, Mexico began to dominate possession, using overlapping runs and angled passes to break down the U.S. defense. But whether due to poor finishing or some heroic last-minute defending from the U.S., the home team could not manage to score.

The U.S. attack, on the other hand, started to sputter around the same time. Frustrated by Mexico’s determined, high-pressure defense, the team resorted to too many long passes that were easily intercepted.

A few minutes before half, Mexico had yet another great scoring opportunity. Jesus Zavala made a charging run from the right wing and attempted to head a lofted ball into goal. Along the way, however, he slammed into an onrushing Brad Guzan, who punched the ball away. Zavala was called for a foul after colliding with the solidly built, six-foot-four Guzan.

Guzan was big all night.

"Brad’s performance was huge, Klinsmann said. "He stepped it up. Great communication. He was very vocal. He gave them a lot of confidence throughout the whole last 10 days.

"He made it clear that if anything happens to Tim, [he’s] more than a No. 2." The first half ended with a scoreless draw, and some El Tri fans booed as their players walked off the pitch.

Klinsmann made a tactical adjustment during the break, sending Jozy Altidore out wide and pushing Clint Dempsey further forward. The U.S. captain saw little action in the first half, and when he did get on the ball he was often far from goal.

Apparently Klinsmann wasn’t satisfied that he had done enough with the U.S. offense, and he took Altidore off in the 55th minute, replacing him with Eddie Johnson.

Beasley had an up-and-down first 45 minutes, but he looked strong early in the second half, making two critical tackles on the left wing. The second came after Maurice Edu gave the ball away in a dangerous zone, a play which could have easily resulted in a Mexico goal.

Gonzalez played well from start to finish—a true man of the match performance. He did well throughout the contest, but he made a particularly important tackle around the 53rd minute. After Beasley slipped, dos Santos slipped into a dangerous position on the right wing with two attackers sprinting toward goal. Gonzalez sensed the danger and made a sliding tackle to quell what looked like a certain Mexico goal.

Just before the hour mark, a deflected cross bounced around the penalty area and fell to an unmarked Zavala. His blistering shot bounced off a defender and flew just wide of the U.S. goal. Another bullet dodged.

The Americans may have dodged an even larger bullet near the 80-minute mark when Edu tackled Aquino in the penalty area. The pro-Mexico crowd was convinced Edu fouled Aquino, and replays revealed he probably did. But the referee did not call the penalty, and the scoreless tie continued.

The U.S. made a few half-hearted efforts on goal, but they soon seemed content with a draw. Mexico attacked with increasing desperation, but despite an endless supply of opportunities, the Americans held strong and the Mexicans scuffed their best opportunities.

You could feel the anxiety growing in the crowd as the failed opportunities piled up. They hadn’t turned on their team, but they were getting quiet. And then, out of nowhere, the American Outlaws—a band of 100-plus U.S. fans who made the trek to Azteca—began to outshout the El Tri supporters.

“U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!” they screamed at the top of their lungs.

And none of the home players, coaches, or fans had anything to say in response.

John Godfrey is the founder and editor-in-chief of American Soccer Now.

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