It takes some luck to prevail inside the intimidating cauldron that is Estadio Azteca, and the United States did find its share of good fortune in Tuesday’s 0-0 draw with suddenly beleaguered El Tri.
Two penalty appeals were denied and Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez missed twice from in close – the kind of chances “Chicharito” generally finishes with ruthless efficiency, which is why he went to Manchester United at such a young age.
To be sure, the young United States back line (well, three inexperienced defenders plus converted midfielder DaMarcus Beasley) were generally in the right spots and almost always accurate in the challenges. Michael Bradley did good two-way work, identifying the vital passing central lanes to screen out much of the danger and then assisting the United States in possession.
The Americans never moved enough men forward to bother or test Mexico’s back line, but those useful moments of possession were critical in taking just enough pressure off the back line and pushing the Mexicans back.
For the second consecutive contest, goalkeeper Brad Guzan did everything he needed to do. Surely U.S. fans who fretted last week about a U.S. goal unguarded by trusty Tim Howard are feeling better after seeing Guzan calmly go about his chores over two memorable nights.
Still, Klinsmann’s men needed a break here or there to draw a point out of Azteca, a place where Mexico has traditionally been so stingy with them.
In the first half, Bradley raised two hands and pushed Chicharito in the back as the Mexican markman streaked into the 18, looking for a ball off Giovani dos Santos’ foot along the right. The nearby referee’s assistant raised his flag to indicate a foul but Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez ignored the waving yellow flag.
But the refereeing choice that will surely drive Mexican fans even more nutso – when they aren’t debating the job status of increasingly embattled José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre – was a 76th minute penalty kick appeal unheard by Lopez. Edu bundled aggressively into Javier Aquino from behind as the Mexican attacker prepared to shoot.
The visitors from up north definitely got away with something there.
In the 28th minute, Chicharito went high with a header from inside the six – but the sequence perfectly illustrated how so much of the night would go. Mexico’s Jorge Torres Nilo was able to scoot free along the U.S. right side; there was quite a bit of that Tuesday, especially early. But U.S. center back Matt Besler got just enough of a body on Chicharito as they both sprinted toward goal, so the Mexican striker didn’t have anything uncontested.
Later, Chicharito missed from even closer; that one was something that looked like genuine serendipity.
Of course, the United States made some of its own luck. Prime example, Graham Zusi’s tremendous tracking in the 72nd minute, a 30-yard dash to heroically head away a ball and prevent a point blank header from Angel Reyna.
Besler and Omar Gonzalez were ball-clearing beasts – which was absolutely no luck at all. That was on Klinsmann, whose choice to start the LA Galaxy center back to begin the final round looks like the right one now.