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Azteca Conquered



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Last night the United States national team did something that it has never done before: defeat Mexico at the legendary Azteca Stadium in Mexico City.

The United States–Mexico soccer rivalry has produced some amazing matches. While the U.S. has won its share of important games against Mexico — including World Cup qualifiers in 2001, 2005, and 2009, along with the memorable 2007 Gold Cup final — the one thing the Team USA has never been able to do was win a game in Mexico.

Prior to last night, the U.S. had been 0-23-1 in Mexico City’s Azteca Stadium, which is considered one of the most intimidating stadiums in the world. With an altitude over 7,300 feet above sea level, and the city’s smog mingling with the thin air, opposing players not accustomed to the conditions tire easily. The stadium’s capacity is over 100,000 and the crowds supporting Mexico are extremely hostile towards opposing teams.

When U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann announced the roster for the game, top players like Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Steve Cherundolo, Michael Bradley, and captain Carlos Bocanegra were not included. With European leagues having just started or about to start, many American players elected to stay with their clubs instead. Mexico, meanwhile, is an emerging world power in the sport, its Under-23 team having just won gold at the London Olympics. Few people gave the U.S. a chance even with its top players on the field — and with a team consisting mostly of backups, a blowout was expected.

Mexico controlled possession for most of the game but the U.S. defense was remarkably strong all night. Whenever Mexico’s attack was able to find holes in the U.S. defense, goalkeeper Tim Howard was there to make the key save.

In the second half, Team USA began to press forward a bit more and in the 80th minute, stunned the Azteca crowd with a remarkable combination of outstanding plays. First, left winger Brek Shea beat his defender with a nice nutmeg move, and sent a low pass that found forward Terrence Boyd inside the penalty area. Boyd was heavily marked by Mexican defenders but somehow managed a magnificent no-look, backheel pass to an open Michael Orozco. The son of Mexican immigrants made no mistake with Boyd’s pass and scored from close range.

 

The American defense was able to hang on for the last ten minutes the first-ever U.S. win at Azteca, only the ninth loss in history for Mexico in that venue.

The game was only a friendly, but it could have a big impact for the U.S. team moving forward. Last year, U.S. Soccer hired German legend Jürgen Klinsmann to be their head coach to bring a new approach to the team. Team USA’s win in Mexico — and its first-ever win over Italy earlier this year in Genoa — will likely boost their confidence heading into important World Cup qualifiers this year and next.


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