It’s not often that a scoreless draw can be labeled historic, but the US-Mexico match on Tuesday night at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City was just that.
The US National Team keeps pace with Panama and Costa Rica atop the Hexagonal Round standings after gaining a point from seemingly impossible circumstances just three days after playing in a driving blizzard in Colorado at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The draw moves them to 1-1-1 in the tournament behind the five points of Panama (1-0-2) and the four points of Costa Rica (1-1-1), who leads the US on goal differential.
Here are four reasons the scoreless draw was important for US Soccer and Seattle.
A fortress no more
Estadio Azteca is an intimidating venue. The 105,000-seat sanctuary to Mexican soccer has been the home stadium for the Mexican National Team since the stadium opened in 1966. In that time they have lost just 11 times and just once in World Cup qualifying, a 2-1 loss to Costa Rica in 2001. A combination of the crowd, the heat, the smog of Mexico City and the altitude of over 7,200 feet have made Azteca one of the toughest venues in the world.
The US, like many throughout the rest of the world, has always struggled in Mexico, going 1-23-1 all-time there. However, that one victory came in a friendly last August at Azteca and that may have turned the tides in the decades-long rivalry between the two soccer nations.
The US went into Azteca not intimidated by the crowd or Mexico’s dominance there, but confident, knowing that they had won there before and it could be done again. In just about any other year, Mexico may have thrashed the US in that match, but now the Americans have entered the psyche of Mexico. They may be a long way from evening their now 1-23-2 record in Mexico or their 16-32-13 all-time record against their neighbors to the south, but they are on the right path.
MLS is well-represented
To many, the heart and soul of a soccer federation lies in its domestic league. If that’s the case, then US Soccer is growing stronger, as all 14 players that saw the field for the US on Tuesday have played in MLS at some point, with five of those players currently plying their trade in MLS.
Those players are now strewn around the world, with four playing in England, two in Mexico, one in Italy, one in Turkey and one in the Netherlands. The growth and development of MLS as a league, it can be argued, is furthering the growth of US Soccer as they look to qualify for their seventh consecutive FIFA World Cup.
Sounders FC forward Eddie Johnson played in both the scoreless draw against Mexico on Tuesday and the 1-0 win over Costa Rica on Friday, totaling 49 minutes while helping seal the four points in the two matches.
Now a regular fixture in the US lineup under coach Jurgen Klinsmann, Johnson has shown versatility in his three Hexagonal round appearances, playing on the left wing against Honduras, the right wing against Costa Rica and as a center forward against Mexico. He may have earned his spot on the roster with his stellar play for the Sounders FC in 2012 and his strong performances in the Group Stage last year against Antigua and Barbuda, against whom he scored two goals in a win, and Guatemala, but he has kept it with his willingness to do anything to help the Stars and Stripes to victory.
77 days and counting
The US National Team will play their first World Cup qualifying match in Seattle since 1976 in a mere 77 days. Between now and then, they will play a pair of friendlies in May and June and a qualifying match in Jamaica on June 7.
With players returning from injuries – perhaps even Landon Donovan – the US should be poised to field a strong team in Seattle against a Panama side that currently leads the Hexagonal round. While much can happen in those 77 days, it’s shaping up to be a grand event that will put the US at the halfway point of the Hexagonal round, and one step closer to their goal of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.