Score one for America

by Cass Waters

(sorry its in spanish, but you can see how well both teams played)

The Americans were clinging to a scoreless tie, seconds away from earning a rare point in Mexico, when Angel Reyna’s shot darted perilously close to the goal. Guzan swatted away shot after shot, young defenders Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler showed the poise of veterans, and the Americans hung on for a 0-0 draw Tuesday night, earning only their second point in a World Cup qualifier at Azteca Stadium.

The tie moved the U.S. (1-1-1) into third place in World Cup qualifying for the North and Central American and Caribbean region after three of 10 matches, one point behind Panama (1-0-2). The Americans and Costa Rica each have four points, but the Ticos are ahead on goal difference. “We wanted to win, but we are pleased with the result,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “They gave us everything they have.”

Klinsmann was criticized after the opening 1-0 loss at Honduras in February, with unidentified players and people close to the team questioning his tactics and leadership in a Sporting News report before last week’s home win over Costa Rica. Mexico dominated possession, and Aquino, Hernandez and Zavala repeatedly tested the inexperienced American defense, picking on left back DaMarcus Beasley in particular after he picked up a yellow card in the eighth minute. But Gonzalez came up with one big play after another, and Besler looked quite comfortable in the Azteca pressure-cooker.

He pitched forward and into the net, but the ball popped skyward and over the goal. In the 28th minute, Jorge Torres Nilo sent a perfect cross in to Chicharito, who was right in front of the goal, just a few feet from Guzan. But Hernandez skied that one, too. Guzan, who made his first start since 2010 in Friday night’s qualifier, was superb. When Carlos Salcido lobbed a gorgeous chip shot to Zavala in the 43rd, Guzan ended the threat by coming out and slamming into Zavala. Not only did Guzan clear the ball, but Zavala was called for a foul.

The Americans also got a bit lucky. Mexico could have been awarded a penalty kick for a two-handed push by Michael Bradley on Hernandez in the 12th minute. And El Tri probably should have been awarded one in the 76th when Maurice Edu took down Aquino from behind with a sliding tackle. The Mexican players were livid when no penalty was called, surrounding Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez. Lopez didn’t back down, although replays showed Edu had clipped Aquino’s foot.

“Soccer is sometimes fickle,” Ochoa said. “Today we left everything on the pitch, we tried scoring from the middle from all sides, diagonals and what was missing was the ball going in the net,” said Ochoa, goalkeeper for Ajaccio, in France’s Ligue 1.

The U.S. defense was offense enough, and the Americans were thrilled to leave Azteca with a rare point.

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