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United States draws with Mexico in World Cup qualifier

Mar 27, 2013, 12:34 AM EDT

United States v Mexico - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Getty Images

A week ago the United States national team found itself injury depleted, dealing with some internal turmoil and not so far from a full-blown crisis.

These things do change quickly, though, and tonight finds the United States with four big points from a pair of matches over five nights, striding away from a memorable few days, comfortably positioned in final round World Cup qualifying.

The Americans were hardly overwhelming in a 0-0 draw with Mexico, but Jurgen Klinsmann and his patchwork back line will be far more pleased with Tuesday’s result than the hapless Mexicans, who have (Shockingly!) zero wins after three matches in the final stage of CONCACAF regional qualifying.

The United States never put a shot on goal Tuesday. But neither did they allow much bother for goalkeeper Brad Guzan as quality center back play and a first-half defensive adjustment reduced Mexico and high-scoring Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez – who remains on the hunt for his first goal against the United States – to a series of half-chances and a couple of unlucky, close-in ricochets.

Guzan handled a few routine balls and needed to make one late, quality save. But Tim Howard’s replacement was hardly tested otherwise by a rather stale and uncreative Mexican attack. Including last August’s 1-0 win for the United States, El Tri has not scored on the Americans at Azteca Stadium in more than 180 minutes.

(MORE: United States Man of the Match, Omar Gonzalez)

The United States is tied for second with Costa Rica and Honduras in the six-team group (from which three teams automatically qualify for Brazil 2014). But with the toughest match (away to Mexico) behind them, and with four of seven remaining matches on home soil, the Americans have reason to like their positioning tonight.

“I think when many people doubted us, when many people said it couldn’t be done, that it was over, we came together as a group,” Herculez Gomez told ESPN after the match. “We showed tremendous attitude, tremendous willingness to sacrifice for one another … I’ve got to applaud my teammates. It’s a great group of guys, and we couldn’t have asked for any better.”

This was just the second time the United States earned a point in 15 World Cup qualifiers in Mexico; the U.S. record there now is 0-13-2.

U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann made just two changes form the team that stamped “mission accomplished” across last Friday’s snowy proceedings outside Denver. Maurice Edu was in for the injured Jermaine Jones at the holding midfield spot. And Matt Besler got his first World Cup qualifier start for Clarence Goodson, who picked up a minor injury in Friday’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica.

Mexico’s plan was clear – and it was causing some U.S. defensive headaches early. El Tri looked for Gio Dos Santos or Javier Aquino on the right or Andrés Guardado on the left with diagonal balls, repeatedly catching the U.S. fullbacks a little too far forward.

(MORE: Mexico left to deal with their own crisis)

DaMarcus Beasley looked particularly bothered, reinforcing the worry that the veteran midfielder, pulling emergency left back duty, would be stretched in a match that demanded more defending. Indeed, Mexico at Azteca is a wholly different beast than what Beasley saw Friday at home against Costa Rica.

Two U.S. men had yellow cards in the first 20 minutes. In fact, Beasley needed just eight minutes to get his booking for an unwise push in the back on Aquino.

Those weren’t the only defensive issues early. Jesus Zavala was allowed a wide open header off a free kick, as Geoff Cameron appeared to lose his man. And the United States’ midfield was allowing too much service from 35-40 yards out, begging for trouble with a goal-scorer of supreme instinct like Hernandez is around.

But a defensive tweak helped as what looked like a 4-2-3-1 to begin Tuesday’s contest evolved necessarily into more of a 4-4-2. When Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez moved their starting positions along the flanks about 10-15 yards back, providing more assistance to their fullbacks, the Mexicans looked slightly less dangerous.

(MORE:  A big point in Mexico City took a bit of  luck, too)

Mexico, running out of ideas, became predictable. They remained dangerous on the flanks, but Besler and especially Omar Gonzalez remained faithfully in the center, refusing to be drawn out, and were so dominant in there. Cameron also did solid work in his second consecutive start at right back.

“‘The back line was outstanding,” Klinsmann said. “It’s really wonderful to see these guys take on these challenges. And it’s a huge challenge in front of 100,000 people, and it seemed like it didn’t bother them.”

Mexican fans will surely be upset about the most dangerous moment for their team, which has not scored at home so far in two final round qualifiers. El Tri was unlucky to be denied a 75th minute penalty appeal when Edu bundled into Aquino from behind 10 yards from goal.

  1. manchestermiracle - Mar 27, 2013 at 12:47 AM

    That 75th-minute penalty kick wasn’t called because Edu got the ball. That’s how Mexico ended up with a corner kick. In addition, the referee seemed to evolve as the game went on and stopped giving Mexico the benefit of the doubt on some calls, likely because he got tired of watching them flop.

    All-in-all a satisfying result if for no other reason than the alternative could have been much worse. Only the second point ever earned in Mexico by the U.S. team in World Cup. The boys got the job done and now we can all look forward to the rematch in September in Ohio.

    • bishopofblunder - Mar 27, 2013 at 8:30 PM

      Looking at the replay, it appeared to be clear that Edu did not get the ball. But the referee obviously thought otherwise, since he gave a corner. However, I will agree with you that early embellishment by Mexico was a big factor in the penalty not being called.

  2. player169 - Mar 27, 2013 at 12:59 AM

    Gritty point snatched. 1st 45 min, the possession looked great, despite not really pressing to the attacking 3rd.

    Am I alone in being happy that we got to see a lineup without the German Americans?

  3. jumpingnots - Mar 27, 2013 at 2:20 AM

    Am I happy with this result ?? no I am not,after I just read they were not able to put a shot at the Mexicans goal,and were in defence for 90 minutes. No they are not going to make it much farther.

    • wandmdave - Mar 27, 2013 at 10:50 AM

      I’m sorry but you know nothing about soccer or the circumstances of this match if you are disappointed with that result or think it bodes ill for our qualifying chances. Sure if we were Germany or Spain it would be a disappointment but we ain’t…yet.

      Judging by your comment you didn’t watch even a game with this level of importance so I’m not that surprised but still your ignorance is disappointing.

  4. slxc - Mar 27, 2013 at 2:26 AM

    Good job USA.

  5. BigBeachBall - Mar 27, 2013 at 9:12 AM

    A draw in that sh/t hole called azteka is actually a win. Well done boys.

  6. scottp11 - Mar 27, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    Yes! Not only did we get a point out of Azteca, but I think we saw some things to build upon, unlike from the Snow game.

    It’s nice to see that we have some gamers and some depth. While without many first-choice guys, we still did “ok”, which is fine by me. Jurgen has perplexed us all the last 2 years with his call-ups, omissions and non-sequitur ways. But what’s he’s created is a culture of competition, confidence, desperation, unease and, quite simply, has given a lot of guys game time. I think we took a huge step forward last night. Most teams in the world would be content with a draw at Azteca.

    Also, I read an article somewhere (espn?) just briefly and it said that we were missing 7 players. 7, is that right?

    • tridecagon - Mar 27, 2013 at 2:42 PM

      It could be argued that a couple of these guys are not first-choice players, but let’s see, off the top of my head…

      Donovan
      Howard
      Cherundolo
      Bocanegra
      Goodson
      Johnson, Fabian
      Jones, Jermaine

  7. jimeejohnson - Mar 27, 2013 at 12:42 PM

    Viva machismo!

  8. bigdinla - Mar 27, 2013 at 1:05 PM

    Only thing this team lacks is speed on the wings. Gomez is NOT a LM. Need someone that can stretch the other teams backs. Really missing Donovan. Also want to see Holden with Bradley!

    • bishopofblunder - Mar 27, 2013 at 8:32 PM

      What ever happened to Stuart Holden? Will he ever play competitive soccer again? Are they still paying him at Bolton?

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