A goal by Michael Orozco Fiscal enabled the United States to win its first game ever against Mexico in Mexico, 1-0, Wednesday night. Here are some quick observations of how it was
done and what it means.
MINDSET MATTERS. Though the Americans struggled through most of the first half to get and keep the ball, they seldom panicked or let the Azteca aura intimidate them. They stuck to their defensive shape and relied on the aerial prowess of centerbacks Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron to clear the crosses that came in from the wings. Late in the first half, when left back Jorge Torres Nilo got to the byline and tried to cut the ball back, keeper Tim Howard sprawled at his feet to block the ball out for a corner,
Mexico knocked the ball between and behind midfielders Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones numerous times but struggled to supply that final pass for a clean chance at goal. As the second half dragged on without a goal, the Mexicans' hurried attacks broke apart in the middle third, and the Americans gained a foothold through the work of Graham Zusi and DaMarcus Beasley, who had replaced Danny Williams and Landon Donovan, respectively.
Brek Shea's entry in the 77th minute immediately re-energized the team, and two minutes after his appearance he drove to the byline and clipped a low ball to fellow substitute Terence Boyd, whose back-heel rolled for yet another sub, Orozco Fiscal, to poke into the net.
MEXICO FLAT, HOWARD SHARP. The squandered chances of Javier Hernandez helped the USA pull off its historic win, yet Chicharito wasn't the only Mexican player guilty of subpar work.
Pablo Barrera, scorer of two goals in last year's 4-2 victory in the Gold Cup final, was replaced at halftime, and though Elias Hernandez (no relation to Javier Hernandez) got around USA left back Edgar Castillo repeatedly, the opportunities he created were either put wide of the target, cleared by the USA defenders or saved by Howard.
Winger Andres Guardado got into good spots but either shot horribly or mis-hit his crosses. Central mid Angel Reyna got a lot of touches but also labored before being replaced by striker Aldo de Nigris.
Chicharito evaded Cameron to meet a Hernandez cross but his header missed the far post by a couple of yards. Another shot hit Edu and wrong-footed Howard, but the keeper dove back to his left and managed to parry and then smother the ball.
In the final minutes Howard pulled off a world-class reaction save to deny Chicharito from point-blank range.
HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE. In 24 matches in Mexico prior to Wednesday's win, the Americans had lost 23 times and earned a 0-0 tie in the Azteca during the Hexagonal qualifying series of 1997.
At Azteca, opened in 1966 as the major soccer venue for the 1968 Olympic Games, Mexico had lost just eight of 119 internationals. The last defeat was to Paraguay in 2007.
Friendly results can be overblown, and the Azteca crowd was well-short of capacity and its broiling intensity, but not only did the Americans beat their archrival in its feared fortress, they did so without Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey and most of their regular starting defenders.
A hobbled Landon Donovan (tight hamstring) left at halftime. Only three players -- Donovan, Howard and Beasley -- had played for the USA against Mexico in the Azteca, yet those who earned a famous victory Wednesday took a huge dose of confidence that will be needed when they head back there next year for the Hexagonal.