Sometimes, a tie feels a little like a win.
That’s certainly true during a World Cup qualifier at the daunting Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Going into Sunday’s showdown with Mexico, presently the strongest team in the region, the U.S. was 1-8-2 all-time there. The lone win had come in a 2012 friendly. In World Cup qualifying, the Americans had avoided a loss just twice, with ties in 1997 and 2013.
This time around, it got a third draw, picking up an unexpected and helpful point in the campaign to qualify for Russia next summer. Michael Bradley’s early, 40-yard wonder goal was offset by Carlos Vela to make it a 1-1 tie that Mexico largely dominated.
The outcome of the game might well have been decided in the span of just a few seconds midway through the first half. Bobby Wood neglected to score the USA’s second goal on one end and Mexico’s lightning-fast counterattack tied the game up at the other end.
In a scramble in front of the Mexico goal, the ball fell for Wood after El Tri declined to clear it, but he whiffed on the volley. Goalkeeper Memo Ochoa seized the ball and quickly started the counterattack, which eventually fed Vela. He drifted inside, skipping away from DaMarcus Beasley and then ripped his shot at the near post, beating Brad Guzan. It was, unarguably, a superb counter.
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 12, 2017
It was also a goal that had been coming.
Mexico set a predictably feisty tone early on when Carlos Salcedo elbowed both Beasley and Wood in the head in the opening minutes and was somehow not sent off for either infraction.
The U.S. took the lead shortly thereafter through Bradley’s golazo. The captain picked off a Mexican pass around the halfway line, took a few assured strides forward and the dropped an audaciously long chip over Ochoa, who was caught well off his line.
What a chip from Michael Bradley! ?
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 12, 2017
It was the first time in half a decade an American had managed to score at the Azteca.
US Azteca scorers Michael Bradley(2017) Michael Orozco(2012), Charlie Davies(2009), Eddie Lewis(2005), Ricky Davis (1980), Willy Roy (1972).
— Mike Woitalla (@MikeWoitalla) June 12, 2017
But Mexico established about three-quarters of possession and would maintain it all game. And it would create chances before Vela’s equalizer. Hector Herrera pulled a shot wide. Then, Chicharito Hernandez snuck through the offside trap and tried to dink the ball over Guzan, but he missed the frame.
In spite of swimming up against the stream, the Americans did get a golden chance before halftime, when Omar Gonzalez got a clear header on a free kick but didn’t connect with it properly.
In the second half, the U.S. mostly packed it in deep in its half, inviting Mexico forward without offering much by way of a counterpunch. It was a perilous proposition, against the best attacking team in the region by some distance, but it nevertheless paid off.
Yet Juan Carlos Osorio’s team struggled to find a path through the tightly-packed American lines, with the 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta distinguishing himself in shielding the defense beside Bradley.
Other than Herrera’s 71st-minute free kick that smashed off the crossbar with Guzan beaten, Mexico mustered little. That was true because Geoff Cameron, once again outstanding in the American back line, made an enormous sliding interception to prevent a shot on the doorstep for Chicharito.
Bruce Arena’s Yanks, playing a conservative yet opportunistic game, twice came close to a winner against the run of play. Another hopeful Bradley lash from distance swerved off the post. And 18-year-old Christian Pulisic, who struggled to leave a mark on the game for the first time in his U.S. career, curled his late shot wide.
Considering Mexico’s soaring form – and the many issues the U.S. confronted after losses in its first two games of this final qualifying stage – a point was a sound result for the Americans. With four qualifiers remaining in the fall, the march to an eighth straight World Cup appearance is in fine shape with the USA squarely in the mix.
“Anytime you can get a point here, it’s great,” Bradley said after the game. “The mentality and the commitment from everybody was really, really good.”
Because at the Azteca, every point is precious.
Leander Schaerlaeckens is a Yahoo Sports soccer columnist. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.
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