After Michael Bradley’s gorgeous stunner of a goal to take the lead against Mexico, Bobby Wood whiffed on a goal scorer’s opportunity and Ochoa scooped up the ball and the counter broke through and scored a goal on the loan targeted shot from Mexico. Most of the rest of the game felt like Mexico was pressing us as they dominated possession and had what felt like more dangerous opportunities compared, aside from Bradley hitting the wood work, Pulisic’s shot that he’ll want back and Gonzalez putting two headers off target that surely had him struggling to fall asleep that night.
Jubilation reigned across social media and in the locker room after the game in what truly was a useful point, but honestly wasn’t what many would consider a win for team USA. It kept us in third place and only two points ahead of Panama who had a game last night that could have pushed us right back into fourth. Many people ask the important and frustrating question, why are so many US fans happy about a tie and treating it like it was a win?
Let’s start with the history, in 18 trips to Azteca the US have come away with a total of three points ever in competitive play. Once in 1998 and now twice in a row, qualifying for the 2014 World Cup and again this week qualifying for 2018’s Cup. This is significant for a few reasons, as the US continues to try to establish themselves as co-owners of the CONCACAF region alongside Mexico, who have historically been considered alone at the top of the region. It’s also significant this year because they gave away three points to Mexico at home in this qualification cycle, gaining a point back was crucial psychologically especially against our rival. It was huge for Captain Michael Bradley to score a beautiful goal and win over fans who have questions his role on the team with several lackluster performances in the last cycle. It was great to see a strategy by coach Bruce Arena, who’s rehire was honestly met with hesitation if not disappointment that we’d be going back to “old” boring American soccer. The jury is still out on both of those men, but this game was important to reestablish some excitement about the state of the team. Bruce had a plan, a lineup that had plenty of new faces and a formation we hadn’t seen before. It brought back memories of Klinsmann lineups that were throw together at the last minute and everyone looked out of place, many eyebrows were raised when the lineup was announced. However, it worked, maybe not to perfection, but a point on the road, especially this difficult road helps.
That point was further helped when Honduras came through with two goals against Panama, Panama needed a late goal to secure a point of their own in front of their home crowd. This leaves the table looking like this:
USA with that point in Mexico move now to a position where a win against Costa Rica on September 1 at home becomes one that could vault them into second place. It’s unlikely they’ll catch Mexico at this point, but if they do slip up at any point against a weaker opponent, which they have been guilty of doing and the US can capture more road points possibly three from either away at T&T or away at Honduras (the two weakest teams in qualifications) they could take the region. That game in September is crucial and there is still work to be done in all four games, but with two home games and two road games against the two weakest teams, things look much better than they did to begin 2017.
Was the point great and the US had a dominant performance? Absolutely not.
Would it have been great if any of the three mentioned shots went in and the USMNT had won the game? Absolutely.
Couldn’t they have dominated the game and attacked a little more or taken possession? Sure.
Do we wish Pulisic had taken over the game and scored 9 goals? Of course we do!
Are we lucky that Mexico blew opportunities and were missing key pieces of their lineup? Yes, but so were we on two days rest.
I understand the frustration, especially from new fans, but also understand the point helped a lot in the march to qualification. It was a confidence boost to a few key individuals especially our Captain in a critical warm up game to World Cup 2018 and our coach Arena. It gave some of the younger players including Pulisic, Paul Arriola and Bobby Wood some of their first tastes of playing at Azteca in a US jersey to become part of the rivalry which they will surely face again in future Cup pursuits. The point may have future implications on the standings, but the psychological boost will no question be a part of this team moving forward. Understanding that impact might change the way you look at the excitement you see on the team’s faces and both fans and players comments after the game.