U.S. Earns a Righteous Point in Mexico

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By JACK BELL

US logoThe United States men’s national team had little possession but a lot of heart during its riveting 1-1 draw against Mexico at Estadio Azteca on Sunday night.

After taking four points from two World Cup qualifiers over four days, the U.S. under Coach Bruce Arena is in third place (there are two games in the region on Tuesday night) in the Hexagonal with four games to play, well-positioned to advance to next year’s finals in Russia. With a break in qualifying until September, and the CONCACAF Gold Cup coming next month, the atmosphere is light years away from what it was late last year when the American team lost its first two games in the Hex and Jurgen Klinsmann was axed as coach.

2018 FIFA World Cup Qualifying CONCACAF Final Round Standings

TEAM

GP

W

L

D

Pts .

GF

GA

GD

Mexico

6

4

0

2

14

9

2

+7

Costa Rica

5

2

1

2

8

7

3

+4

USA

6

2

2

2

8

11

8

+3

Panama

5

1

1

3

6

2

2

0

Honduras

5

1

3

1

4

4

12

-8

Trinidad & Tobago

5

1

4

0

3

2

8

-6

The stunning, early goal by the U.S. captain Michael Bradley silenced the huge crowd of more than 81,000 in a place the American team has never won (0-5-3) a qualifying match.

The U.S. lead lasted fewer than 20 minutes after Carlos Vela tied the game in the 23rd. And although the U.S. players had a lusty celebration after the match ended, the difference between a victory and a loss was precarious.

“We were positioned to get three points today,” Arena said after the game. “We were close, I’m proud of the result, but I am a little greedy. We played 90 minutes to win, not 90 minutes to not lose. Both teams had a lot of challenges.”

Having pocketed three points in the 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago in Colorado last Thursday, Arena shuffled his lineup, most notably dropping Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey from the starting lineup and going with a mixture of young legs (Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola and Bobby Wood) along with a couple of veteran defenders (DaMarcus Beasley, playing in his fifth qualifying cycle, and Tim Ream). While some observers pondered the formation (what else?), Arena called baloney on the obsession with how the players lineup — on the whiteboard.

“We call the formation a 3-4-3 or a 5-2-1-2, or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “As long as it adds up to 10, we’re good.”

While the U.S. had barely 30 percent of possession and was forced to defend furiously in the second half, Mexico’s attack failed to make that final pass and had only one shot on goal — Vela’s. Central defender Geoff Cameron had a stellar performance, frustrating Mexico’s Javier Hernández throughout the game. Coach Juan Carlos Osorio, too, played the match without some of his regulars as Mexico perhaps looked ahead to playing in next week’s FIFA Confederations Cup in Russia. Rafa Márquez, Miguel Layún and Andrés Guardardo all missed the game.

Both teams had chances to win the game in the second half. For Mexico. Héctor Herrera blasted a curling free kick that beat Brad Guzan but smacked off the crossbar. Later, Javier Aquino was unmarked at the near post, but could not get his half-volley on goal from a cross. For the American team, Bradley nearly scored his second of the game when his blast from 30 yards eluded Guillermo Ochoa but kissed the near post and went wide. With the U.S. hunkered down in defense, a quick counter led to Christian Pulisic (who scored both goals last Thursday) dribbling across the top of the penalty area. He tried to curl a right-footed shot around Ochoa, but failed to get enough spin on his shot, which sailed wide right.

“We’ll take our point,” Bradley told The New York Times. “Points are hard to come by here. On a different night, we can come away with three.”

 


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