An adventurous lineup, a competitive spirit and a sixth-minute wonder goal by Michael Bradley sparked a confident performance by the U.S. MNT in a 1-1 draw Sunday night in Mexico City at the once mighty fortress Azteca.
The U.S. had handled Trinidad and Tobago just three nights earlier, claiming all three points in a 2-0 win in Colorado. The quick turnaround meant changes were likely in the U.S. lineup, the surprise was how many, the new formation, and a goalkeeping change.
With goalkeeper Brad Guzan the most surprising of seven new faces in the starting lineup, the Americans faced a Mexico side down several players as well. El Tri veteran Rafa Marquez was one of the players unavailable to Juan Carlos Osorio but fullback Carlos Salcedo seemed all too happy to fill Marquez’ villain role, twice elbowing DaMarcus Beasley in the head in the opening minutes while somehow escaping punishment.
Then Bradley intercepted a pass around the midfield stripe and seeing Guillermo Ochoa stray from his line the American captain chipped a wonderful shot over the scrambling keeper from 40 yards to beat Ochoa and spark hopes of a first ever World Cup Qualifier win in Mexico in the U.S. camp.
Arena’s changes began with Guzan in place of Tim Howard and included every line in the team’s new 3-5-2 lineup. Only DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, Christian Pulisic, and Bradley returned from the starting side that topped T&T on Thursday.
Then Bobby Wood, another of Arena’s changes, missed a chance to put the Americans ahead dos a cero only for Mexico to equalize on a brilliant counter attack goal from Carlos Vela in the 23rd minute.
Ultimately, Vela victimized Beasley before beating Guzan with a perfectly placed shot in the 22nd minute. In truth, enough Americans had gotten back to prevent the Mexico leveler but none supported the U.S. vet.
Mexico had the better chances in the opening stanza with Beasley and his fellow fullback DeAndre Yedlin under heavy pressure from Mexico’s wide men, with Hirving Lozano giving Yedlin a particularly torrid time.
In a second half Mexico amped up the pressure but with Yedlin’s play dramatically improved and Beasley calling on all of his decades of experience the Yanks were able to withstand the home team onslaught.
Arena’s back three of Cameron, Omar Gonzalez and Tim Ream was solid from the start with Cameron making a number of huge interventions in a Man of the Match-worthy performance.
Each team had chances to claim all three points with Mexico’s Hector Herrera’s tremendous 71st-minute free kick rattling Guzan’s crossbar minutes before Bradley missed out on a second golazo when his long-range effort clipped the upright.
The Americans had one last chance to claim the spoils in the 89th minute when Pulisic shook free only to fire a tired looking shot well wide of the mark. Pulisic would soon be replaced by Graham Zusi on what was a frustrating night for the 18-year-old.
But El Tri are not the Soca Warriors and it would have been foolish to expect Pulisic to have his way with Mexico on this stage but then the Hershey, Pennsylvania product has made fools of more than a few in his meteoric rise and if tonight was less than perfect it was still an important step in Pulisic’s development.
In the biggest game of his burgeoning international career, Kellyn Acosta made a strong case for a regular role in this team with an impressive two-way performance in the U.S. midfield.
It was just the third point the U.S. has picked up in World Cup Qualifying play in Mexico, although the Americans have now tied two in a row at Azteca.
The result gives the U.S. eight points, well behind Mexico who top the Hex with 14 points. Costa Rica is also on 8 and with six points Panama can pass the U.S. with a win over Honduras.
With four games left Arena has the American World Cup bid back on track with the U.S. next hosting Costa Rica on September 1 before traveling to Honduras on September 5.
In the last set of Qualifiers, the Americans welcome Panama and then face Trinidad and Tobago away. It is a manageable schedule for Arena’s squad and one that should find the U.S. heading to Russia just about a year from now.
Scoring Summary: 1 2 F
USA 1 0 1
MEX 1 0 1
USA – Michael Bradley 6th minute
MEX – Carlos Vela (Javier Hernandez) 23
USA: 12-Brad Guzan; 2-DeAndre Yedlin, 3-Omar Gonzalez, 20-Geoff Cameron, 14-Tim Ream, 7-DaMarcus Beasley; 11-Paul Arriola (15-Darlington Nagbe, 63), 16-Kellyn Acosta, 4-Michael Bradley (capt.), 10-Christian Pulisic (19-Graham Zusi, 90+2); 9-BobbyWood (17-Jozy Altidore, 79)
Subs not used: 1-Tim Howard, 22-Nick Rimando, 5-Matt Besler, 6-John Brooks, 8-Clint Dempsey, 13-Dax McCarty, 18-Jordan Morris, 21-Matt Hedges, 23-Fabian Johnson
Head coach: Bruce Arena
MEX: 13-Guillermo Ochoa; 3-Carlos Salcedo, 5-Diego Reyes, 15-Héctor Moreno (capt.), 4-Oswaldo Alanís (23-Jesùs Gallardo, 31); 6-Jonathan Dos Santos (18-Orbelín Pineda, 77), 16-Héctor Herrera, 8-Marco Fabián (7-Javier Aquino, 53); 11-Carlos Vela, 14-Javier Hernández, 22-Hirving Lozano
Subs not used: 1-Rodolfo Cota, 12-Alfredo Talavera, 2-Luis Reyes, 9-Raúl Jiménez, 10-Giovani dos Santos, 17-Jürgen Damm, 19-Oribe Peralta, 20-Jesús Dueñas, 21-Jesús Molina
Head coach: Juan Carlos Osorio
Stats Summary: USA / MEX
Shots: 7 / 10
Shots on Goal: 2 / 1
Saves: 0 / 0
Corner Kicks: 7 / 9
Fouls: 21 / 13
Offside: 2 / 2
USA – DeAndre Yedlin (caution) 44th minute
USA – Paul Arriola (caution) 56