Fortunate America Escapes From Azteca with Draw
America took a bold step towards the 2014 World Cup in Brazil as they emerged from the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City unscathed with a point from Mexico. In what was highly regarded as the toughest test of the qualification campaign, America showed that they can handle adversity and the pressure of playing at a hostile environment, and without the help of quite a few key players. Though, America did benefit with the fortune of some questionable refereeing decisions, and lucky misses from the Mexican’s attacks. Nevertheless, it is a point in the bank and America can now look ahead rather confidently to the rest of the qualification campaign.
One of the high points was the work ethic shown by the ragtag American defense. Center backs Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler aren’t the most experienced group but they withstood most of the serious attacks and showed a resiliency at the backline. Geoff Cameron and DeMarcus Beasley manned the wing back positions. Cameron isn’t that experienced at the international level, and Beasley was playing out of position. Usually a forward winger, Beasley was called into the defense after starters like Fabian Johnson became unavailable through injuries. At the goalkeeper position, America was reeling from the unavailability of Tim Howard, but the impressive Brad Guzan filled in.
Remarkably, this team produced just the 2nd point ever claimed by America in Azteca Stadium, where the team historically had just one draw and 11 losses. Although there were few offensive opportunities for America to win this game produced by the likes of Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, and Eddie Johnson, their defensive play was endearing.
My favorite moment was when Graham Zusi made a daring 40-yard run back to the defense to intercept a cross that looked destined for an easy goal. Zusi’s heartfelt defensive run allowed him to head the ball wide for a corner kick, of which Mexico squandered 15 attempts from the corner.
The game was one where America just seemed to have an invisible force field in front of the goal. Mexico repeatedly broke down the American defense, especially down the right side covered by the fill-in Beasley, but their shots often went high or wide. Chicarito, the talented Manchester United striker, missed several golden opportunities from close range and will surely have been frustrated after the game.
Also, America seemed to benefit from several poor refereeing decisions. Mexico twice felt they had a penalty claim in this match, and one second-half challenge clearly supported the claim. However, the referee never made the call. Right after the match, Mexican players and coaches were seen surrounding the refs and igniting an argument, but the result stands nevertheless.
Now the CONCACAF region is very delicately poised. Only 3 points separate the top team, Panama from the bottom team, Jamaica. With 4 points, America sits in the top half of the group, but with 3 draws, Mexico is looking quite precarious. But, there are still 7 matches to go for each team, and a single game could completely shake up the table. This makes the next several matches very important for every team. Surely, someone will start to find some luck and break away from the pack. Let’s hope the American fortune will continue and that they will be that team!