MEXICO CITY -- In the days leading up to the U.S. national team’s historic win at El Azteca, there was plenty made of Jurgen Klinsmann’s inclusion of five Mexican-Americans on his roster.
In the Mexican press, the words weren't so kind. The general agreement was that none of the American contingent was good enough to move the needle on El Tri’s vaunted radar, settling for Klinsmann's squad instead.
Wednesday night the Mexican-Americans made El Tri pay for that sentiment.
Edgar Castillo put in a sparkling shift at left back as one of the U.S.'s best players, Herculez Gomez was tireless up front, Michael Orozco Fiscal scored the winning goal, and Joe Corona and Jose Torres chipped in as the Mexican-American contingent came up huge in the 1-0 win.
"I was just glad to show well," Castillo said. "I think I made an impression, and I was just glad to be a good teammate."
Like all of his Mexican-American teammates, Castillo slightly sidestepped the question of whether the victory at El Azteca was sweeter for the much-maligned Mexican-American contingent – after refusing to speak to Mexican press. But it must have been some sort of redemption for a group that is criticized in the Mexican press every time their names show up on a U.S. roster.
"I can't describe it. It's a huge dream come true, and emotion I can’t explain," said Orozco Fiscal of his winning goal. "You can't say they took us lightly, because they had plenty of chances to score, but we were organized and we scored. The team that scores in football, wins."
It turns out that Mexican roots were the last thing on the mind of Herculez Gomez as he powered through an active if somewhat frustrating shift. Gomez, who has emerged as a leader on Klinsmann's team, responded somewhat defiantly to the insinuation that he wouldn’t make it with El Tri.
"For me there was no decision to make," he said. "I know who I play with, who I am. I know who Mexico is. They're a great team. That doesn't figure in."
The victory will at least put to bed the constant storyline when the U.S. visits Azteca. A makeshift American team finally overcame decades of futility, winning in the 104,000-capacity stadium for the first time in 25 attempts, with mostly dual nationals playing the hero roles.
"The effort we put in, the way we played, intelligently, leaves a great taste in your mouth," Gomez said. "But we know who Mexico is. They're the giant of CONCACAF, and winning here is never going to be easy."
In the end, the experience and poise of the Mexican-American contingent paid off for Klinsmann. Five players who frequent the Azteca pitch for their clubs came to Mexico City and looked right at home for the night.
It's no coincidence that those players are also Mexican. But tonight there could be no doubt: each of them is also as American as could be. And that was the difference in the U.S. national team's first ever win here.
"Since day one I've decided to defend the U.S., and I’ve done it with honor," Orozco Fiscal said. "And my parents, who are Mexican, have always been behind me."
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