MEXICO CITY — Officially the game ended in a tie. But try telling that to the U.S. and Mexico, which fought to a scoreless draw in a World Cup qualifying match that left both teams heading in different directions.
For the U.S., Tuesday’s result felt like a win – especially since it came at a sold-out Estadio Azteca, a place where the Americans have never won a World Cup qualifier.
Plus it leaves the U.S. in third place three games into the six-nation, 10-game qualifying tournament for Brazil 2014.
For Mexico, meanwhile, the tie was as humiliating as a loss. El Tri has played two World Cup qualifiers in Azteca in the past two months and not only is it still looking for its first win, it’s still looking for its first goal – this despite the fact it outshot the U.S. 17-1.
So for the second time in as many months, Mexico’s fans booed their team off the field after it fell to fifth in a qualifying tournament in which only three teams are guaranteed berths in Brazil.
“It’s a tie,” said U.S. coach Juergen Klinsmann, who was in a celebratory mood nonetheless. “We came here, we wanted to win this game. But obviously we’re very pleased with this result.
“Mexico gave us everything they had. Put us under a lot of pressure. It was an unbelievable team effort. But this group is ready for those challenges.”
And it truly was a team effort, especially on the back line where Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler – playing in a World Cup qualifier for the first time – led a staunch defensive effort.
The U.S. strategy was fairly simple: Make things difficult for Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Mexico’s high-scoring striker. And the Americans accomplished that in part by pushing Mexico’s wingers wide and by double-teaming Hernandez in the middle.
Mexico had its chances. Hernandez narrowly missed on a header in the 21st minute and came even closer on a diving shot at the near post eight minutes later.
And then late in the second half a 10-yard volley from Jesus Zavala was deflected wide by one of a trio of U.S. defenders, the first shot of a wild barrage by Mexico over the final 20 minutes that tested – but never beat – U.S. keeper Brad Guzan.
The U.S. team’s one shot came in the 15th minute when Geoff Cameron missed inches wide at the far post.
So while the U.S. goes home with a tie that feels like a win, Mexico is left to lick its wounds - and possibly begin searching for a new coach.
Jose Manuel de la Torre’s job is rumored to be in jeopardy.