By Mike Woitalla in Mexico City
The USA failed in its 23rd attempt to beat Mexico on its soil when it fell, 2-1, in Sunday's World Cup qualifier at Azteca Stadium.
''Mexico was the better team today,'' said U.S. coach Bruce Arena, whose team faces Guatemala on Wednesday in its third game of the 10-game final round of World Cup qualifying.
The Americans had opened the Hexagonal with a 2-1 win in Trinidad Feb. 9. But in Mexico they went down 2-0 by halftime on goals by Jared Borgetti and Antonio ''Sinha'' Naelsen.
Eddie Lewis, who had scored the winning goal against Trinidad & Tobago, pulled the Americans within one in the 59th minute with a hard low 14-yard shot after prep work by Landon Donovan and Eddie Johnson.
It was the first U.S. goal scored against El Tri in Mexico since 1984 and the first in a World Cup qualifier since 1980. But the Mexicans had broken a 465-minute scoring drought against the USA with Borgetti's header in the 30th minute, when the tall striker nodded home from inside the goal area after Jaime Lozano headed the ball to him from the far post.
Despite altitude training in Colorado before arriving in Mexico City, which lies 7,200 feet above sea level, the Americans wilted in the first half.
''I think our players shut down in the last 15 minutes of the first half and that cost us the game,'' Arena said.
Three minutes after Borgetti's goal, the U.S. backline fell apart, allowing unmarked Naelsen to shoot past Kasey Keller from nine yards out.
The Americans were much more lively at the start of the second half when Lewis managed the only two U.S. shots on goal, the first being saved by keeper Oswaldo Sanchez and the second flying into the inside side-netting.
With three of the six Hexagonal teams earning World Cup spots and the fourth a playoff with Asia's fifth place team, the loss in Mexico is hardly a disaster for the USA, which saw its 16-game unbeaten streak come to an end.
''Now it's full concentration on a game we should win [vs. Guatemala]'' said U.S. keeper Kasey Keller. ''Now the real pressure's on because that is a game to put us back on track and move us in the right direction.''
Said Arena, ''In the big picture, we were the only team in the competition to play its first two games on the road. If you had asked me if I'd be happy with three points after two games, I'd have said yes.''
March 27 in Mexico City
Mexico 2 USA 1. Goals: Borgetti 30, Naelson 33; Lewis 57.
Mexico -- Sanchez, Salcido, Osorio, Marquez, Carmona, Pardo, Lozano (Perez, 68), Blanco (Morales, 68), Naelson, Borgetti (Medina, 65), Fonseca.
USA -- Keller, Cherundolo (McBride, 83), Berhalter, Onyewu, Bocanegra (Noonan, 76), Donovan, Lewis, Mastroeni (Ralston, 70), Reyna, Beasley, Johnson.
Red card: Mexico -- Lavolpe (coach) 40.
Referee: Rodolfo Sibrian (El Salvador).
TEAM GP W T L GF GA P
Mexico 2 2 0 0 4 2 6
Guatemala 2 1 1 0 5 1 4
USA 2 1 0 1 3 3 3
Costa Rica 2 1 0 1 3 3 3
Panama 2 0 1 1 1 2 1
Trin. & Tobago 2 0 0 2 2 7 0