Mexico had the altitude, but the U.S. men’s national team had the attitude to match.
Estadio Azteca is a house of horrors for visiting teams, a raucous shrine to soccer that sits 7,200 feet above sea level in Mexico City. It’s an inhospitable venue for the USMNT under any circumstances — but it’s especially daunting these days, with El Tri standing head and shoulders above its CONCACAF region foes in FIFA World Cup qualifying.
None of that mattered Sunday night as the United States earned a hard-fought 1-1 draw against its longtime nemesis in a World Cup qualifier.
The U.S. team entered the match with an 18-34-14 all-time record against its southern rival, including 6-17-6 in World Cup qualifiers. Eleven of those matches were played at Azteca, with the USMNT going 1-8-2 overall and 0-5-2 in World Cup qualifiers.
Despite all that history, the Americans came out energized and struck first with a sixth-minute goal from captain Michael Bradley, who chipped a 40-yard shot over the outstretched arms of Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
“It gave us an advantage early on,” Bradley said afterward on the Fox Sports 1 broadcast. “It was a shame to give away the goal that we did, because obviously they have a lot of the ball — but tactically, the game went the way we expected and the way we wanted. But anytime you can get a point here, it’s great. The mentality and the commitment from every guy was really, really good.”
Mexico got a stunning equalizer in the 23rd minute from Carlos Vela, who beat U.S. goalkeeper Brad Guzan to his left side. Ochoa caught the U.S. defense on its heels with a long outlet throw, and Vela deftly delivered the ball through traffic from outside the box.
Hector Herrera gave the Americans a major scare in the 71st minute, hitting the crossbar off a free kick from outside the box.
Three minutes later, Bradley returned the favor with a booming shot from 35 yards that banged off the right goalpost.
As rain began to fall near the end of the game, the United States nearly got a goal for the ages in the 89th minute. Guzan boomed a long kick out to Jozy Altidore, who headed the ball to 18-year-old Christian Pulisic, who in turn sent a shot just to the right of the goal.
The result pulled the U.S. team alongside Costa Rica with eight points in the CONCACAF standings. Only Mexico, well out front with 14 points, has more. Costa Rica, which has played one fewer game, hosts Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET.
The USMNT previously earned three important points Thursday with its 2-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in Commerce City, Colorado. Also Thursday, Mexico defeated Honduras 3-0 at Azteca.
Thomas Neumann is a Florida-based writer and journalist who previously worked at ESPN and the San Diego Union-Tribune. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.