An American Original: U.S. Defeats Mexico in Azteca, 1-0…In Soccer [OPINION/PHOTO]
No way it was going to happen Wednesday night. Just no way.
US Soccer is light years ahead of where it was when I watched Paul Caligiuri score late against Trinidad & Tobago — back in the stonewashed jeans day — to qualify the United States for Italia ’90, America’s first World Cup in 40 years. It has a first-division league that isn’t even forced to play on old, narrow Astro-Turf fields with football markings anymore. It has some good young players. It has some good old players. It’s usually a shoo-in for the World Cup these days.
Jurgen Klinsmann’s team is good, but not Mexico good. Mexico’s Olympic team just finished winning its first-ever gold medal in the London Games — an Olympiad for which the U.S. didn’t even qualify. El Tri handled Brazil like few teams have ever done to claim gold. And those were the kids!
The U.S. was playing the Mexican national team Wednesday night. The team that had re-established its country’s claim as the power in CONCACAF with victories in the United States, breaking a long string of non-wins, if not outright losses, on American soil.
American soccer writers and broadcasters (yes, there are such creatures here nowadays) were talking about the widening gap between Mexico and a US Soccer movement that had grown stagnant. Other than a disappointing World Cup, Mexico was on a three-year run of playing a flowing, creative style that was not only entertaining, but — more importantly — winning.
And Klinsmann’s team was playing with three brand-new defenders and only a handful of stars while Mexico played most of theirs, and it was at Azteca Stadium, and it’s 8,000-feet high, and the fans aren’t very friendly at all, and Mexico-slayer Landon Donovan had to come out at the half with a muscle strain, and there was just no way the United States was going to claim it’s first-ever win in Mexico Wednesday night, and that’s “ever” as in: Eh-Ver.
But it’s “ever”, nevermore.
U.S. defender Michael Orozco Fiscal pushed Terrence Boyd’s backheel pass into the net in the 79th minute and pushed the American thorn back into the side of a nation that thought it was moving beyond such demoralizing losses for a 1-0 win Wednesday night.
That makes US Soccer’s all-time record in Mexico 1-23-1.
You can say the win came in a “friendly”, but anyone who knows this rivalry knows it is never, ever friendly. Don’t think for a second that Mexico didn’t want to win the game. Not only was beating Yanquis at home a 75-year-old tradition, this game was expected to showcase that growing gap while Mexico’s gold medal winners took a victory lap in front of the 80,000-plus in the stands.
But all of Mexico’s fireworks came during the halftime show, while the U.S. saved its lone bottle rocket for the last.
Mexico lashed back, pouring waves of attackers at goalkeeper Tim Howard, who saved the American bacon more than once with some incredible acrobatics. In the end, though, the United States held on for a win that Klinsmann has already called one of the most important this country has ever had.
Just four days after Olympic gold and an immense national high, here is the return of Mexico’s Red, White and Blue national headache.