The US Mens National Team played two World Cup qualifiers this past week. The first against Trinidad and Tobago at home in Denver and the second on the road at El Azteca and Mexico.
The first game should have been a breeze for the US, but a nil-nil halftime score definitely had some fans nervous. Then a couple of brilliant maneuvers by 18 year-old Christian Pulisic let us breathe easier with a 2-0 win. The match put the US in third in qualifying which would be enough to go on to the World Cup. However, there is still a lot of work to do before the US can lay claim on a World Cup birth.
A quick turnaround found the US team in Mexico City, a place that is difficult to play. El Azteca is Mexico’s national stadium and the atmosphere is only friendly to El Tri. I will admit to being nervous, especially given that Mexico beat the US in Columbus earlier in the Hex. I wondered if we were about to get routed.
Then I saw the lineup. A 5-4-1? Oh crap, we’re going to bunker in and hope for the best. Was I transported back to the 90’s where we saw this type of play from the national team? Were we even going to attack? I braced myself for a long night of watching El Tri keep possession and attack looking to break down the bunker and come away with three points.
Then Michael Bradley, yes Michael Bradley, worked a piece of magic. Interrupting a pass at the center line and seeing space, he took the ball forward and catching Ochoa out of goal hit a perfect chip shot that found the back of the net. You don’t see many Golazos from Bradley, but this was one of them. It was also early in the match, the sixth minute to be precise, and I think that it allowed the US to breathe and relax a little.
This also put pressure on Mexico, who responded not long after with a brilliant strike by Vela in the 23rd minute and it was game on. Mexico had the better opportunities the rest of the match, however both teams did strike the woodwork. Mexico’s on a free kick and the US’ on another run by Bradley.
In the end, the 1-1 draw was deserved. It was a huge point for the US and a missed opportunity for Mexico to put their biggest rivals in a dire position for qualifying.
Like I said, the journey for the US is not over. There is still a lot of work to do, but getting that point might just be the thing that ensures this team a birth in Russia for 2018.