After winning south of the border for the first time just seven months ago, the Stars and Stripes walked away with a shocking draw against El Tri.
The U.S. men's national team passed a huge test over the last five days as it followed up a victory over Costa Rica with an important 0-0 draw against Mexico in the third matchday of the World Cup qualifying Hexagonal stage at the Azteca Stadium on Tuesday night.
It was only the second away point the USA has taken in Mexico in World Cup qualifying history.
"We wanted to win, but we are pleased with the result," coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "They gave us everything they have."
Mexico failed to score at home for the second time in a pair of Hexagonal matches in Mexico City this year. El Tri played to a scoreless draw against Jamaica in last month's opener followed by a 2-2 tie in Honduras over the weekend. It now has three points in three games.
The U.S. lost its opener on the road against Honduras but bounced back with a 1-0 victory over Costa Rica in snowy Commerce City, Colo., on Friday. The nation's draw against Mexico puts the Americans in a very good position moving forward in qualifying.
The U.S. sits in third place in the Hex standings and Mexico is in fifth. The top three finishers after the 10-game schedule will advance to the World Cup while the fourth-place team will play a one-game playoff against New Zealand for the final spot.
"There are 21 points left. The leader has five; we have three. It's tight," Mexico coach Manuel De la Torre said. "It's close, and of course we are not where we wanted to be. Our obligation is to win at home, and we have left points behind."
The U.S. was 0-23-1 on Mexican soil until last August, when the Americans pulled out an historic 1-0 win in front of a half-empty stadium. On Tuesday, nearly all 104,000 seats were filled in what the Mexican team announced was a sellout, and the U.S. held on tight despite constant pressure.
Mexico had a total of 18 shots (two on target), while the U.S. had one all night (zero on target). In addition, El Tri had 15 corner kicks compared to two for the visitors.
Mexico had the first real opportunity eight minutes into the match when DaMarcus Beasley pushed Javier Aquino just outside the box, earning the U.S. left back a deserved yellow card. Gio Dos Santos took the free kick just to the left of the U.S. goal, but his cross sailed across goalkeeper Brad Guzan and out of bounds.
It was just the beginning of a tough night for the makeshift American back line, which was missing Clarence Goodson (hamstring), Edgar Castillo (facial fractures), Timmy Chandler (hamstring), Steve Cherundolo (knee), Fabian Johnson (hip), Jonathan Spector (ankle), and Danny Williams (illness). Starting keeper Tim Howard (back) was also out.
“You don’t want to change too much coming out of a very, very good performance from those guys,” Klinsmann said. “You want to build on the confidence of this team that fought through those 90 minutes and not make too many changes.”
Mexico dominated scoring opportunities in the first half, although only two of its four shot attempts in the first 45 minutes caused real panic. In both instances Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez headed crosses over Guzan.
The U.S. was only able to create one chance before halftime. Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore worked a give and go in the midfield resulting in Bradley sneaking his way into Mexico's box, but the midfielder was taken off the ball without a penalty called. The Americans finished the first half without a shot on target.
Things for the Americans didn't get much better to start the second half, and Klinsmann looked to give his team a spark by taking out Altidore in favor of Eddie Johnson in the 55th minute.
"Jozy ran out of gas," Klinsmann said. "He used so much energy against Costa Rica on Friday, but they were all totally committed."
Mexico, meanwhile, continued to dig away at the U.S. back four and nearly found the back of the net when Jesús Zavala overpowered Bradley off a corner kick in the 68th minute only to see another Mexico attempt fly above the United States' goal. Seconds later, Graham Zusi hustled back to break up a delivery for what would have been an open Angel Reyna at the six-yard box.
Twice during the match the referee kept his whistles away for what appeared to be clear penalties in favor of Mexico. In the 76th minute, Maurice Edu took down Javier Aquino from behind, causing a stop in play for the players to protest the call with no success.
In the first half, Chicharito was pushed down in the box by Bradley, prompting the assistant ref to raise his flag and signal a foul, only to see it waved off by the man in the middle.
Mexico closed the game with a flurry of corner kicks and held possession through added time, but Omar Gonzalez, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and Beasley will get credit for keeping the mighty Mexicans scoreless on their home turf.
"It's always going to be a bit hectic and a bit crazy, especially late in the game," Guzan said. "You're never going to come to a place like Azteca and go out and have it nice and easy. So we knew at some point, it was going to come, the pressure was going to come, and we were able to deal with it."