U.S. visits Azteca in Mexico and comes away with historic win.
By Robert Wagman
(Thursday, August 16, 2012) -- After 75 years of trying, the United States men finally recorded a victory in Mexico City.
Playing the role of a considerable underdog, the U.S. prevailed 1-0 last night on reserve defender Michael Orozco Fiscal's first international goal in the 80th minute before an estimated 70,000 in vast Azteca Stadium, which has a capacity of 105,000.
Overall, the U.S. (1-23-1) won for the first time in 25 tries in Mexico. The Americans are now 1-8-1 at Azteca, going back to 1972, and 1-19-1 all-time in Mexico City.
"We were well aware that we've never won here at Azteca and this is an amazing experience for all the players," U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann said. "We told (the players) before the game, 'This moment is for you, go and grab it.' We are aware that is was a lot of work. Tim Howard kept us in the game I don't know how many times. It was an absolutely fantastic performance by Tim. Also, the back-line were holding their strength for the whole 90 minutes. It was a fantastic team performance."
The three players who combined for the historic goal are virtually new to the U.S. program. After Wednesday night, Orozco Fiscal has five international appearances, defender Brek Shea is the veteran with 13 caps and striker Terrence Boyd had five.
While Klinsmann has brought in many new faces since taking the helm on July 29, 2011, last night's American game-plan resembled the methods of predecessors Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena. The U.S. employed a single striker and defended as a team, hoping that its goalkeeper would come up with big saves, while looking for a goal off a counter-attack or a set piece.
How Klinsmann had his team play lat night was exactly how the Americans have played for the past 20 years when they came up against a quality opponent or in a difficult venue. The U.S. played four backs whose orders were to stay at home and defend, and five in the midfield, whose job was to clog things up and to help the defenders. The one forward's mission was to be opportunistic.
It worked. The U.S. prevented Mexico from getting very many opportunities. American goalkeeper Tim Howard came up with a pair of amazing saves in the last five minutes of regulation. And a no-look back-heel by Boyd after taking Shea's touch from the left side of the penalty area found Orozco Fiscal wide open at the right post for the only goal of the night.
Interestingly, when Boyd came in to start the second half, the U.S. went to a two-striker set and it almost backfired. The Americans became more offensive-minded, but in doing so, it opened up space for the Mexicans to operate, leading to some of their better chances.
Overall, Mexico had a wide advantage in terms of time of possession, but it played a strangely dilatory match. The Mexicans played as if they believed that goals were going to come and they invested very little effort until the U.S. scored and then panic set in.
Klinsmann also admitted that the U.S. offense was largely absent. "We know we still have to improve in many elements," he said. "We have to keep the ball longer, we have to create more chances and we have to do a lot of work still, but I think this gives us a lot of confidence."
The Americans started six of the 11 who played in the last World Cup qualifier against Guatemala. Missing from the U.S. side tonight were veteran defenders Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and Clarence Goodson; midfielders Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey, and forward Jozy Altidore.
Mexico manager José Manuel (Chepo) de La Torre started eight of his World Cup regulars, but was left without the three that played on Mexico's Summer Olympics gold-medal champion. -- keeper José Corona, defender Carlos Salcido and attacking midfielder Giovani dos Santos.
Klinsmann now has to get ready for clearly improving Jamaica, host of a September 7 qualifier in Kingston. Four days later in Columbus, Ohio, The U.S. faces Jamaica again.
Those games will be more wide open than tonight's game and he will need some of the players he was missing tonight.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 8.5: His two amazing saves in the final 10 minutes will place this game among the best played by a U.S. keeper although, in reality, he did not have all that much to do in the first 80 minutes. He showed he is among the best in making reflex saves. Now he gets to show that on Monday when his Everton hosts Manchester United.
Defender Fabian Johnson - 6.5: For his club TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, he is a left sided player, essentially a midfielder. Tonight, he filled in on the right side and did well although with Mexico trying to push through the middle or up the left, he had relatively little to do. He often moved into the middle to offer help.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 8: The tall defender had a simply brilliant games. He won ball after ball in the air and made stop after stop on the ground. He has been acquired by England's Stoke City with the intention of turning him into a defensive midfielder, but after Stoke manager Tony Pulis watches video of this match, he might change his mind.
Defender Maurice Edu - 6.5: In a way Klinsmann did Edu a favor by starting him as a defender. Edu wants to move to Spain's Valencia and he's trying to show he can play multiple positions. He did very well tonight in the center of the back-line, meshing with Cameron and frequently running with opposing striker Javier (Chicharito) Hernández.
Defender Edgar Castillo - 6: He was a target all night with Mexico attacking down the American left and attempting to cross to the middle. Mexico got a few of those crosses off, but generally Castillo smothered everything coming his way. A couple of mistakes, but otherwise a fine showing.
Midfielder José Torres - 4.5: His job was to hold the ball and feed his attackers, but he rarely touched the ball and was almost completely ineffective. He continues to not show well more often then he has good games and his time on the field for the U.S. might now be sharply lessening.
Midfielder Kyle Beckerman - 5.5: He started off the winning play. Most of his hard work in the middle passed pretty much unseen as he did little that was flashy, but much that was very necessary.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 5.5: He is the most active of the U.S. midfielders and being constantly in motion leads to conspicuous errors, at times. But he broke up attack after attack and, as usual, was able to match an opponent's physical play. His role is very necessary, although he does need to lessen his giveaways.
Midfielder Danny Williams - 5: Playing the role of absent Clint Dempsey, Williams was just OK. He is not a right-side player and he showed it throughout the night. Made a few good defensive stops, but added almost nothing to the attack.
Forward Landon Donovan - 5: He apparently tweaked a hamstring in training Tuesday and, as a result, was tentative before coming off at halftime. He did make several runs at the Mexican defense, but with little effect.
Forward Herculez Gomez - 5: He played very hard, but with little to show for it. When he got the ball, he usually attacked himself when he had other options, including once a wide-open Terrence Boyd in front of the goal. He received very little service out of the midfield and seemed frustrated at times.
Forward Terrence Boyd (46th minute for Torres) - 6.5: His perfect, no-look back-heel pass won the match and capped off a strong appearance for the now-Rapid Wien striker. His running created chances, but he too received very little service and had to drop back to dig the ball out for himself.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley (46th minute for Donovan) - 6: He worked tirelessly over the second half, sometimes to good effect, sometimes less so. He was important on the goal-scoring play, but also did a lot of defending and the hard work in the middle.
Midfielder Graham Zusi (60th minute for Williams) - 4: Not a happy half hour for the Major League Soccer standout. He gave the ball away too easily and put himself in several positions where he had to foul, although the yellow card he was issued was not deserved in a 50-50 situation.
Defender Michael Orozco Fiscal (77th minute for Castillo) - 6: Yes, he scored an historic goal by being in the right spot at the critical moment, but he also played strong defense down the final minutes in killing off the match.
Midfielder Brek Shea (78th minute for Gomez) - 7: In his 12-plus minutes, he started the two most decisive U.S. attacks. He had fresh legs and was willing to use them. This may now get him out of Klinsmann's doghouse and he is likely to see longer minutes with the ability to go forward.
Midfielder Joe Corona (89th minute for Jones) - no rating: A brief appearance, although he did make one solid defense stop.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Tim Howard.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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