Self-belief behind USA's historic win
Sir Alex Ferguson once coined a pithy phase about soccer that seems particularly apt after what happened Wednesday night.
“Football, bloody hell.”
The beautiful game’s unpredictability was on full display at Estadio Azteca. If you were at the game — whether a gleeful American or one of the many, many nonplussed Mexicans — you’d agree.
For the first time in 25 attempts (a streak dating back 75 years), the United States came into the fabled Mexico City stadium and accomplished something it had never done before: beat arch-nemesis Mexico.
The 1-0 victory was hardly a pretty game. For long stretches, the Americans were outplayed in virtually every way imaginable; compressed into their own half, reliant on their goalkeeper to save balls off the line and a backheel shot from a young substitute striker. This was not a slick American performance nor was it a sub-par Mexican effort.
Wednesday’s performance was simply historic.
Andres Guardado, easily the best player on the field for Mexico, summed up his side’s take on the game. “We dominated the game. They got a lucky goal,” said the young Valencia midfielder. “It hurts whenever you lose at the Azteca, and we are hurt.”
These are things that a gracious Jurgen Klinsmann conceded after the game. But the United States manager was also adamant that his team had accomplished something very special and had learned to believe in itself.
“We know Tim Howard kept us in the game,” Klinsmann said. “We know Mexico created far more chances. But I think if you asked the Mexico players they would say this USA is a very hard team to beat.”
“We took a risk,” Klinsmann added. “We started a whole new backline. We told our players you have nothing to lose, give it all you have. Can we play better? Yes. Can we play a cleaner game? Yes. But this is a very important win now for our belief.”
Belief was the theme the players came back to again and again as they made the gauntlet down press row and into their bus. Geoff Cameron talked about team unity. Tim Howard talked about how the team controlled its fear and made history. And Landon Donovan, while noting that the win wasn’t as meaningful as a World Cup qualifier victory, gave credit to Klinsmann on the night.
Before the game, Howard had spoken about the chance this team had to make history. The mood around the camp was light and quietly optimistic. As the minutes ticked by and Mexico’s shots — from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Pablo Barrera and Elias Hernandez, and everyone else — weren’t going in, belief started to grow. With an hour passed by, some noticed that it was still 0-0 —the same score line signifying the USA’s best result ever at the Azteca. Why couldn’t they hold on and do it again?
Suddenly, a player who Klinsmann had intimated had gotten a swollen head made something happen. Brek Shea, the much-maligned FC Dallas midfielder, picked up and crossed over a clever ball to Terrence Boyd who heeled it to eventual scorer Michael Orozco Fiscal.
“I never thought I’d score a goal at the Azteca,” said Orozco. “It means a lot to me, with my parents being from Mexico and playing for the USA, this is so much honor and strength.”
Fact is, before the game, few thought the Americans would score a goal, much less win. That includes most of the US team. With the likes of Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore in Europe, this was a game to blood some youngsters to the US roster. These were callow, untested and unfamiliar players; in essence, a B-team, group of hopefuls that might form the nucleus of a World Cup side.
On the evidence, they are clearly not there yet. Fabian Johnson had a standout game, but Edgar Castillo was exploited all night long. Geoff Cameron was very solid but Maurice Edu, deputizing at center back, probably isn’t a long-term solution.
The Americans were shredded in midfield, and until Boyd came on, Herculez Gomez was left alone, helpless.
And yet, soccer is a funny game. Even when beaten all over the field, the USA grabbed on to one great run, one great flick, and one goal.
And just like that, the Americans made history.