By Mike Woitalla
After the 0-0 tie, the first question asked of the U.S. coach, by a Mexican journalist in Spanish was, “Jurgen, is this result a victory for you?”
“No, it’s a tie,” Jurgen Klinsmann said with a smile and produced chuckles from the media corps.
“We came here believing we had a chance to win this game but are very pleased,” Klinsmann continued. “Mexico gave everything they had. They put us under a lot of pressure. And the way our team was organized, how we stayed connected, how committed we were -- it was unbelievable and our players deserve a huge, huge compliment.”
Captain Clint Dempsey said, “It wasn’t a pretty game. They had most of the ball. We had to grind out a result. It wasn’t pretty, but credit to the boys. We were difficult to break down. We conceded a lot of free kicks and corner kicks, but we still did a good job of preventing them getting a goal. Four points from two games, and looking where we are in the table, is great.”
No, the USA did not play anything near brilliant soccer at Azteca nor in last Friday’s 1-0 over Costa Rica. But both times the Americans had an excuse. The win over the Ticos came on a field made unplayable by snow. Mexico losing a World Cup qualifier at home is so rare -- it’s happened only once in 74 games since 1949 -- that ties are celebrated. (As Jamaica did after a 0-0 in February.)
“I don’t think people realize how tough a place this is to play at,” said midfielder Herculez Gomez. “We did something not many teams do. ... This is our second point in World Cup [qualifying] history at Mexico, so yeah, it does feel like a victory.”
The USA also managed a tie at Azteca in 1997, en route to qualifying for the 1998 World Cup under Coach Steve Sampson, who was Tuesday's game working for Mexican television. The Tuesday tie keeps Klinsmann undefeated against the Mexicans after a 1-1 tie in Philadelphia in his debut game in August 2011 and a 1-0 friendly game last summer.
For Gomez, who plays in the Mexican league for Santos Laguna, and also played in last August’s win, it was especially sweet.
“My teammates go home, back to MLS, back to the English Premiership, back to the Bundesliga,” said Gomez, who has been playing his club ball in Mexico since 2010. “I’m taking an hour flight tomorrow back to Torreon, and I’m taking a lot of bragging rights with me. I’m still undefeated against Mexico.”
The Americans were outshot, 17-1. They gave up 15 corner kicks and only earned two. But the Mexicans, despite coming close a few times, and perhaps unlucky not to earn a penalty kick, simply couldn’t unlock the U.S. defense. In the first half, the Mexicans focused on going wide. They hit a surprising number high balls into a central defense with 6-foot-4 Omar Gonzalez and 6-0 Matt Besler.
“We didn’t want them to play out of the back,” said Klinsmann. “We didn’t want them to combine through the midfield. So we hoped they would hit those long, diagonal balls. Still, they created their chances. They had opportunities. But we did close down the spaces and didn’t allow them to play their usual combination play.”
Brad Davis came in for Gomez at wide midfield with 20 minutes left and ending up defending on both flanks as Mexico tried desperately to get a goal.
“We had to grind it out together,” he said. “But we got the job done."
They'll be plenty of opportunities this summer -- friendlies and three homes World Cup qualifiers -- for Klinsmann's men to prove they can do more than grind out wins that aren't pretty.
“We have a simple goal, which is qualifying for the World Cup,” said Klinsmann. “And we want to improve this program one step at a time."
Some sparkling soccer this summer would be a nice next step.