All in all, life has not been great for the US Men’s National Soccer team. Their youth development team’s the U-17 and U-20 have struggled mightily. The main squad lost in pretty embarrassing fashion to Mexico in last year’s Gold Cup final (after losing to Panama earlier in the tournament)
And to make matters worse, the team did not even qualify for the London Olympic games that were eventually won by Mexico in a thrilling 2-1 affair.
So you could imagine the expectations were set pretty low for this U.S. team as it visited its old nemesis, Mexico and the Azteca Stadium, a venue the U.S. team had never won at in 75 years. With the American team coming in struggling, the Mexicans were enjoying an emotional high never before felt, having won their first gold medal in Olympic competition.
Everyone expected a Mexico victory. The speak pregame was how much the Mexican soccer system had surpassed the American one. But instead of rolling over, the American team came out to play, with a strong first half team defense that kept the Mexicans at bay.
As the second half came around, Mexico’s offense found its footing led by attacker Javier Hernández. However, goalie and team leader Tim Howard began to show everyone why he is regarded as one of the top goalies in the world.
At this point of the game, people were excited at the mere thought the U.S. could escape Mexico with a 0-0 draw. Scoring a goal seemed an afterthought as there was tiny to no offensive pressure, and the team’s ideal player, Landon Donovan, was subbed out early in the half.
But then manager Jurgen Klinsmann inserted Michael Orozco-Fiscal in the 77th minute and Brek Shea in the 78th minute. It did not take long for history to be made.
Coming down the left wing, Shea sent in a cross intended for forward Terrence Boyd. Some will call it luck, some will state it was skill but Boyd deflected the cross with a back heel that found Orozco perfectly and the 26-year-old forward, who plays in the Mexican professional league, put the ball into a wide open net.
The goal stunned the partisan Mexican crowd to the point you could nearly hear a pin drop. Coming here to celebrate Olympic glory and to beat on the hapless Americans, they were witnessing the unthinkable.
Javier Hernández.and the Mexican team did their ideal to tie it. A shot by Hernández in the 85th minute took the kind of deflection you nearly always see go into the net. But Tim Howard with an astonishing feat of athleticism repositioned his body in time to make a finger-tip save.
Four minutes later, Hernández again was on the attack, putting a header on net that Howard saved with both his hands and feet. After that saved, four minutes of stoppage time passed with no more real Mexican threats.
It took 94 minutes and 75 years to state it, but the American team had bested the Mexicans at the famed Azteca Stadium. Though it was a friendly, you could tell how much the victory meant to the American team with some players near tears, embracing each other with Jurgen Klinsmann hugging his assistants like they had just won the World Cup.
The question to be asked as the team leaves Mexico is what does the victory mean for this team? The mood regarding this team was very negative entering this match and for good reason. And as much as you like to think a win like this will give the team newfound confidence, the Americans always seem to never capitalize on the positive momentum they gain.
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After all, just look at their recent history. A win at Italy was followed by losing out on the Olympic qualification. Landon Donovan’s shocking goal in the 2010 World Cup, that gave the U.S. an inexplicably clear road to the semifinals was wasted by a lackluster game against Ghana.
Even their 2002 round of 16 World Cup win against Mexico could not be capitalized on against a German squad that was ripe to be upset. So before anyone goes out and thinks the U.S. team has turned a major page you should check that tremendous enthusiasm at the door.
One has to also think about that the Mexican team had an emotional hangover. After all, it was less than a week since the team beat Brazil in the gold-medal game. Imagine several members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team having to play an exhibition against Sweden five days after beating the Soviets.
With all of that said, this was obviously a positive step forward for a U.S. soccer federation desperate for good news. There are still a number of questions that are left to be answered leaving this game. But despite the team’s many flaws, the Americans now have beaten both the Mexicans and Italians on the road this year. You have to believe that means something.
Many will discuss how this will affect the team’s future. For tonight, and even the next few nights, I encourage you to just enjoy the moment and relish in the history you got to see tonight. A mere exhibition turned into some of the most dramatic soccer seen on American tv sets since Donovan’s magical goal over two years ago.
Not bad for Wednesday night entertainment.
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