Struggles secondary in historic U.S. win

MEXICO CITY -- It was an historic victory, the first by the United States at Estadio Azteca in a series that dates to the 1930s, and those responsible couldn't have been more pleased with what they achieved.

The Americans got a superb performance from their backline, at least two heroic saves from Tim Howard and one fortuitous goal to claim a 1-0 triumph Wednesday night over Mexico.

And they weren't shy about proclaiming how important was the result ... even if didn't really mean a thing.

“At the end of the day, we won't win any trophies for winning tonight or won't get any points for it,” said Galaxy captain Landon Donovan, who made an imprint defensively before departing at halftime. “But considering the history, and who knows what happens in the future, [a first win here] can never happen again. We're going to enjoy it tonight.”

They should. Beating Mexico at Azteca is nearly impossible: It has happened only once in an official game, a World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica in 2001, and in a handful of friendlies. Indeed, this was just the third defeat for El Tri in an international exhibition since 1973.

That the U.S. squad didn’t perform particularly well -- defense aside -- is beside the point.

“It's a wonderful moment, because winning a game against a very, very good Mexico team that we have lots of respect for, at Azteca Stadium, that means a lot to us.,” said U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “Obviously, when we analyze the game, we'll find many, many things that we want to do better. Obviously, in the first half, we had big problems to keep the ball, to get the ball into zones up front, but Mexico, too, had no chances in the first half at all. Second half, they had more chances, really more chances, than we had, and it became difficult.”

“I think it's important for us to understand that we can compete with big teams at their stadiums, at their locations,” he said. “Very special occasion and we want the players to appreciate that. I want the players to take it all in, because you never know if you can have an occasion like that. That's what we told the players. We said you have nothing to lose, give it all you have. Can we play better? Yes. Can we play technically cleaner? Yes. But moments like this are really important.”

The U.S. generated nearly no offense until the 80th minute. Brek Shea, who had been on the field all of two minutes, ran from the left flank past Mexico right back Severo Meza and winger Elias Hernandez and into the box. He then sent the ball into the goalmouth, where it bounced around a little until Terrence Boyd's backheel put it on the goal line. And Michael Orozco Fiscal, who had come off the bench three minutes earlier, poked it home.

“I never thought that would happen,” said Orozco Fiscal, an Orange Countian who plays for San Luis in Mexico. “It's a dream come true.”

That aside, the Americans struggled to possess the ball, couldn't connect passes and for the most part -- save for performances by Jermaine Jones in midfield, Howard in the net and, especially, Geoff Cameron and Edgar Castillo on the left side of the backline -- failed to offer a whole lot.

There were reasons for the lack of chemistry: Pachuca's Jose Torres was out of position in midfield; Fabian Johnson, a natural left back, was on the right side; and Santos Laguna's Herculez Gomez was often stranded up top in a 4-2-3-1 formation until Boyd joined him at forward in the second half; more than half the first-choice lineup wasn't present. Mexico applied heavy pressure, especially in midfield, and would have won if not for Cameron (who owned Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in the first half, stopping him cold three times), Club Tijuana's Castillo (a statement-making performance) and Howard (who flew to stop Hernandez twice after Orozco Fiscal's goal).

The U.S. insists things were better than they appeared.

“I thought the performance was great,” Donovan said. “Even if they had scored a goal, I think we could hold our head high and say we played well here. Most teams come here and struggle mightily. I thought the pace of the game was still under our control. Even though they had a lot of the ball, I thought we still felt comfortable and I was very proud of how we did.”

Gomez said that he was “really, really left in awe” by how everybody played for and backed each other. “That spirit, that attitude, that's going to take us a lot of places that talent won't,” he said.

Most important, Donovan proclaimed, was that winning at Azteca demonstrated that the U.S. can win at Azteca.

“That's why, even if we'd lost the game or tied the game, I think the belief will be there now that we can do it,” he said. “You know, we want to keep it all in perspective. We didn't play in a World Cup final tonight. I think we're excited about the prospect of what we did.”