Juergen Klinsmann beat Italy on the road and now he’s managed a first ever victory over Mexico at Estadio Azteca. Where Team America has never won. In fact, the US was 0 wins, 1 tie, and 23 losses all-time in Mexico. Until last nights 1-0 win. Signature victory for Coach Klinsi.
Alexi Lalas, key contributor in the one tie from the late 90s said of the Azteca, “This is Thunderdome.” Usually we only play our noisy neighbors on the road in World Cup Qualifiers – all other ‘friendlies’ taking place on American soil, where the Mexicans pack the stands and outnumber us in our own stadiums. But for some reason El Tri agreed to play this one in their fortress, giving the US the chance to get a little more familiar with the altitude, smog, and hostility they will likely face in next year’s final round of qualifying.
Adding to the drama, Team America left stalwarts like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Carlos Bocanegra, Jozy Altiodore, and Steve Cherundolo with their club teams in Europe – either to allow them to prepare for the season or for impending transfers. Klinsmann called in a group of mostly MLS and Mexican-based players, a definite B-team, anchored by Tim Howard, Jermaine Jones, and Herculez Gomez. Mexico, meanwhile, trotted out 9 of their 11 first-choice squad. They’re coming off the emotional high of having beat Brazil for the Gold Medal in London, and their youth squads have been impressive in the last round of U-20 and U17 championships. Advantage Green.
Not so fast. 1-0 good guys. So how did we do it? How did Team America snatch its first victory in 25 tries on Mexican soil? Five pentagram points…
- You gotta have some luck. After the game, Tim Howard said, “We deserved a bit of luck.” Two plays stick out: the first came in about the 70 the minute, when Chicarito slid between Geoff Cameron and Mo Edu, rose for a header from about eight yards out, and sent it wide. We’ve seen him finish that nine of ten times for Mexico and Manchester United. The second play was the goal. Terrance Boyd was backheeling because it was his only play on the ball, and it fell right to Michael Friggin’ Orozco-Fiscal, who barely made contact with the ball to score.
- Timmy! In the past, when the US has pulled a major upset, you looked to a couple of awesome saves in the mix. Last night was no exception. Howard – clearly man-of-the-match – came up with one good save in the first half. But after the goal, with El Tri buzzing forward, he made two crazy saves in the last ten minutes. One off the deflection – still trying to figure out how he managed it, and then a point-blank reaction save off the header to seal the shutout.
- Defense of the Future? Geoff Cameron was a beast at center back, and Mo Edu, playing out of position, was solid. Fabian Johnson and Edgar Castillo also played well. Don’t be surprised if three out of those four end up starting together in future qualifiers. The back-line picked up runners and passed better than usual (and since every single one of the defenders also plays in midfield on occasion, this was no surprise). More importantly, they were quicker and more athletic than any recent defensive unit. El Tri did get behind them once or twice, but not for long. And spaces were closed down quickly until the very end. Cameron is a guy US fans are hoping really steps forward. He showed a glimpse of what he could do last night.
- Klinsmann’s Plan. Part of Juergen’s plan from the beginning has been providing positive feedback and energy, instilling belief. We don’t doubt him here. But he’s also made strange selection and formation decisions. Last night, though, he got it right. The off-balance 4-5-1 conceded some space and possession in the first half, but the midfield held firm. Also, the second half subs – Terrance Boyd for Landon, DaMarcus Beasley for Jose Torres, and Graham Zusi for Danny Williams, directly contributed to better play.
- Midfield Generals. The one part of the field the US might have had the advantage on paper: the midfield. Maybe. It didn’t look that way at times, but Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones woke up quickly and repeatedly shepherded Mexico attacks out to the flanks. The pair didn’t allow unimpeded runners from midfield. They could have passed better (same complaint for Torres, Donovan, and Williams). In the second half, Beasley was everywhere, Zusi showed well, and Brek Shea did what Brek Shea is supposed to do: he ran at the defense and put in a dangerous cross, which led to the goal. In fact, the US’s depth in midfield provides a very good argument for continuing to look at Mo Edu as a centerback.
Team America will remember this win. No one will care that El Tri dominated possession and Tim Howard pulled a Jedi to preserve the win. Next year, the players will come back to Azteca knowing they can do it. What a psychological boost this ‘friendly’ turned out to be.