Draw feels like a win for overwhelmed U.S. in 0-0 qualifying draw at Mexico.
By Robert Wagman
(Tuesday, March 26, 2013) -- For the second time ever and the first time since 1997, the United States men traveled to Mexican soil and earned a point in World Cup qualifying standings after Mexico dominated the match, but could do no better than a 0-0 draw in CONCACAF’s final round tonight at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
The U.S. is now 0-13-2 in World Cup qualifying matches in Mexico -- 0-5-2 at Azteca -- and 1-23-2 all-time in international matches south of the border.
"It's a tie," U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann told the media. "We came here, we wanted to win this game, but obviously we're very pleased with this result, Mexico gave us everything they had, put us under a lot of pressure. It was an unbelievable team effort, but this U.S. group is ready for those challenges."
The U.S. benefitted from two huge non-calls from Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez Castellanos. With two hands, American midfielder Michael Bradley pushed Javier (Chicharito) Hernandez down from behind in the U.S. penalty area box in the first half. Though the assistant referee signaled a foul, Lopez chose to wave it off. U.S. midfielder Maurice Edu took Andres Guardado down from behind in the box to negate a dangerous scoring opportunity in the 76th minute, but instead of awarding a penalty kick, Lopez gave a corner kick.
With eight players who were set to be called in unavailable because of injury or illness, and star midfielder Landon Donovan on continued sabbatical, the Americans seemed to be severely shorthanded and in danger of digging itself an deep hole. Instead, the U.S. took four points from its two March qualifiers, including Friday’s 1-0 home victory over Costa Rica in snowy Colorado.
With three of 10 rounds completed, Panama is in first place at 1-0-2 with five points after blanking visiting Honduras 2-0. Costa Rica dispatched Jamaica 2-0 at home, meaning Los Ticos, the U.S. and Honduras are all 1-1-1 with four points, followed by Mexico at 0-0-3 with three points and Jamaica at 0-1-2 with two points.
Mexico dominated possession and was on the attack throughout the match, but came away scoreless for a second time at home in the final round of qualifying. The Americans did not manage a shot on goal, while Mexico held a 17-3 edge in shots, 3-0 on frame. Mexico had an extraordinary 15 corner kicks, but did not come close to scoring on any, while the U.S. earned only two corners.
Despite having a world-class striker in Hernandez, who plays for Manchester United and has 30 goals for Mexico, Mexico simply lacked a finishing touch despite applying constant pressure. It was not until the final minutes -- including four minutes of stoppage time -- that the frantic Tricolor forced U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan into a difficult save.
The makeshift U.S. back-line, which included the inexperienced Major League Soccer pair of Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City) and Omar Gonzalez (Los Angeles Galaxy) in the middle, stood up to everything Mexico could throw at it. The Americans made mistakes, but they stayed organized. At crucial moments, there always seemed to be another defender or a retreating midfielder in place to send the ball out of danger.
Mexico caused problems for the U.S. in the first half by playing extremely wide. Javier Aquino, on the right side, and Andres Guardado, on the left, had plenty of room to run because the American flank defenders tended to cheat toward the middle in order to help out.
At the same time, the Mexican midfield increasingly looked tired and tended to drop back quickly when the U.S. gained possession. This gave the Americans a lot of room and they were able to pass the ball around and relieve any pressure that was on them.
In the second half, Mexico came out with renewed energy and pressed the U.S. from the opening whistle. The Americans were back on their heels for the entire 45 minutes, but they never broke and turned the Mexicans back time after time.
The Americans’ only shot was not a serious one, but that hardly mattered. Given the patchwork lineup, their goal was to escape with a point and that was accomplished.
Klinsmann’s lineup was even more makeshift than the one he fielded against Costa Rica on Friday with hard-working midfielder Jermaine Jones out after spraining his left ankle Friday night.
Missing both matches were defenders Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector and Michael Parkhurst, and midfielders José Torres and Danny Williams, while defender and long-time captain Carlos Bocanegra was not invited because of inactivity with his Spanish club Racing de Santander.
Mexico manager Jose Manuel (Chepo) De La Torre has had a host of problems to deal with as he’s tried to work in some new players and has had other team members injured. With three points, his squad is in the midst of the qualifying race, but all three results are considered disappointing by the home fans. If being shut out twice in final-round home matches at Azteca was not bad enough, on Friday El Tricolor blew a late two-goal lead in a 2-2 draw at Honduras.
An official attendance count was not released, but what looked to be a capacity crowd at the 105,000-seat Azteca booed its team off the field after each half. De La Torre’s job could be in jeopardy.
Meanwhile, the U.S., after starting the final round with a disappointing 2-1 loss at Honduras, took four points when nervous followers worried their shorthanded side might gain none. The Americans now have time to get healthy and perhaps convince Donovan to rejoin them. He is expected to start training with the Los Angeles Galaxy soon.
The U.S. plays Belgium May 29 in Cleveland and Germany June 2 in Washington, D.C., in friendlies, before resuming qualifying June 7 on the road at Jamaica in Kingston.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan - 7: Did everything that was asked of him. He commanded his box under considerable pressure and, at the end, made one dazzling save and punched one ball out of danger surrounded by desperate Mexicans.
Defender Geoff Cameron - 6: He was steady all night. He defended the outside well and often came into the middle to make key clearances.
Defender Omar Gonzalez - 7.5: The youngster possibly came of age tonight. He rarely made a misstep over 90 minutes and was simply terrific. He covered for his inexperience and that of his central mate Matt Besler by ranging to both sides to make stops.
Defender Matt Besler - 6.5: The young defender has never been put in a situation like he was tonight in only his second U.S. start. For the most part, he was composed and did what he had to. Yes, he made a few mistakes, but overall, he did better than anyone might have imagined.
Defender DaMarcus Beasley - 7: The converted midfielder looked like he has been playing left back his entire career. He was consistently one-on-one with the very dangerous Javier Aquino and while he might have lost a few of the battles, he clearly won the war.
Midfielder Graham Zusi - 6.5: His work rate was tremendous. He backtracked repeatedly to aid Beasley and, on two occasions, prevented good Mexico chances with sharp tackles.
Midfielder Michael Bradley - 6: He was forced into a mostly defensive role. He worked hard and made some key defensive stops. Once or twice, he found himself deep into the offensive end, but could not make anything happen, but his work in the defensive midfield was invaluable.
Midfielder Maurice Edu - 5.5: He had a bit of an odd night. He would make a good defensive play, but then would disappear for awhile. He came very close to costing the Americans a penalty kick, but had moments where he made important stops.
Midfielder Clint Dempsey - 5.5: With the U.S. able to develop so little attack, he was left to drift. He tried a couple of long-range shots, but when he attacked he was smothered by the Mexican defense.
Forward Herculez Gomez - 6: No American worked harder. He didn’t contribute much to the U.S. attack, what there was of it, but he defended well and often came deep into the U.S. end to make plays.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 5: He was never an offensive threat and had problems holding the ball, but he received no service and came out in favor of Eddie Johnson, who could do some of the defensive work that Altidore couldn’t.
Forward Eddie Johnson (55th minute for Altidore) - 6: He offered effective defense from the front line. He was able to hold the ball a bit better than Altidore had, but his major contributions were coming back and defending on the late corner kicks.
Midfielder Brad Davis (71st minute for Gomez) - 5.5: He brought in fresh legs at a point they were badly needed. He settled in quickly and made few mistakes.
Midfielder Brek Shea (81st minute for Zusi) - 5: As an offensive player brought into a total defensive situation, he had little impact.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Omar Gonzalez.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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