Playing inside the Estadio Azteca has always provided challenges for the US Men’s National Team. It hasn’t just been the passionate Mexican fans loudly crescendoing in sync with each ole they shout either. Both the elevation of the stadium, sitting over 7,000 feet above sea level, and the mental hurdle of getting over the fact that they only have walked away with one win after leaving the icon venue in Mexico City are just some of the things the US needed to overcome to gather a result out of this fixture. They have only ever led for 21 minutes inside that stadium heading into Sunday night’s game, but all of that changed quickly into the match.
Just six minutes into the game, captain Michael Bradley stunned all 70,000+ fans in attendance with a brilliant world-class chip from 40-yards out that just beat the outstretched hand of Guillermo Ochoa. Bradley intercepted a poor pass from Javier Hernandez that was altered by the early pressure from the US. He touched it ahead and as he was running onto it, picked his head up and saw Ochoa off his line. His next touch was one that will be etched in the highlight history of the national team as he perfectly weighted and timed his chip to put the visitors up 1-0.
Bruce Arena’s lineup had plenty of changes from the last game versus Trinidad & Tobago as well. With a five-back formation, he was content with being organized defensively while trusting his team to be smart and pick the right moments to attack allowing the 5-4-1 formation to mold into a 3-4-3 as DaMarcus Beasley and DeAndre Yedlin would get forward. The game plan was evident from the beginning, pressing Mexico and not allowing them to get too comfortable in possession throughout the first half. And when in possession, the US would look for their outlet players like Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood who would then break on a quick attack.
Physical play was also evident throughout between the two rivals, with the away team lucky not to be down to 10 men just minutes into the game after both Beasley and Wood were struck with elbows on separate fouls.
Even after being shocked earlier on, it was evident Mexico wasn’t going to go down easily. In the 23rd minute, the ball was scrambling around in the box and found its way to Wood. Trying to chest down and volley it off the bounce, he was unable to get full contact on the ball. A big opportunity for the US to go up 2-0 quickly turned into an equalizer for El Tri. Ochoa scooped up Wood’s miss hit and smartly started the counter throwing the ball to Hernandez. He gathered it just inside his half, cut across the center circle, and found Carlos Vela on the right flank. Vela took the ball to the edge of the box and cut it back on his favored left foot along the top of the penalty area. He created just enough space to get his shot off and beat Brad Guzan with a perfectly placed ball low to the near post to finish off a textbook counterattack.
The second half saw much of the same. The US continued to pick its moments to go forward while Mexico saw much of the possession.
Both teams exchanged huge chances that struck off the woodwork. In the 71st minute, Hector Herrera hit a wonderful free kick that seemed destined for the back of the net as it was dipping towards the top corner, but Guzan was bailed out by the crossbar. And just minutes later, Bradley almost got his brace and stole all three points for the US. Kellyn Acosta played a square ball to Bradley who took a touch then hit a well-struck volley from 30-yards out. It beat Ochoa, but unfortunately for the visitors it was saved by the outside of the post.
The US will be happy gaining a draw as every point at this stage of World Cup Qualifying is massive, especially when it is only their fourth ever result at Azteca.
The US sits in third place behind Mexico and Costa Rica in the Hex. Next up for the team is a friendly against Ghana on July 1st in East Hartford, CT before they begin group play of the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup versus Panama in Nashville, TN on July 8th. Their next World Cup Qualifier will be September 1st when they square off against Costa Rica.