By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns
United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann delivered words of inspiration to his players before they ended 75 years of misery.
“This moment is for you, go and grab it.” These are the words that Klinsmann used to rally his players before they took the field at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City.
After 75 years and 24 win-less matches on Mexican soil, the United States finally ended their futility by defeating Mexico 1-0 on Wednesday night. It took 25 tries, but history was finally made in Mexico City.
Azteca Is Mexico’s Fortress
There is a reason why the United States previously never won at Azteca. The stadium sits 7,200 feet above sea level. A majority of Mexican national team members play club football in their own country and are acclimated to the high altitudes.
That’s not the case most of the American players, who were already fatigued from flying across the Atlantic on leave from their European club teams.
It’s not just the altitude, but also the pollution and volatile atmosphere that are huge issues for opponents entering Azteca.
It’s nearly impossible to win at the Azteca. In 120 matches, only nine visiting teams have ever won at Mexico’s national stadium. It is the ultimate home field advantage for the Mexican national team.
More Than A Friendly Match
When does a friendly match mean more than just a friendly? Every time the United States faces Mexico, a fierce battle unfolds.
Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Carlos Bocanegra and a number of U.S. first team regulars did not make the trip across the border. That didn’t matter. Those who wore the red and white striped jerseys played with immense pride for the uniform and people back home they were representing.
Klinsmann brought a group of less-experienced players to Azteca, but they played with their full hearts and souls.
An Unlikely Hero
It was fitting that Michael Orozco Fiscal, a Mexican-American scored the winner at Azteca. Orozco Fiscal had never scored for the U.S. national team in his four previous national team appearances. He plays his club football for San Luis of Mexico’s Liga MX.
Brek Shea cut into the box and slid a neat pass to Terrance Boyd who stylishly back-heeled the ball to Orozco Fiscal, who gave the Americans a shock lead in the 80th minute. He had only come onto the pitch three minutes earlier as a substitute, but became an instant hero.
“The goal was for the U.S. fans and the whole U.S.. We made history,” Orozco Fiscal said after the match.
Mexico had dominated with 66% of possession time and the U.S. had rarely tested Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa, who only made two saves all match.
Sensational Tim Howard
Tim Howard of the other hand, was very busy keeping Mexico off the score sheet. Howard and Mexican star striker Chicharito Hernandez often compete against one another in the English Premier League as respective members of Everton and Manchester United.
Hernandez and Howard had an ongoing duel during the final 15 minutes at Azteca. Howard made an number of late dramatic saves to preserve the Americans’ historic 1-0 victory.
The defenders in front of Howard kept warding-off attack after attack. Mexico had 19 scoring chances, but the defenders in front of Howard did their job by limiting many clear-cut chances.
Geoff Cameron was particularly superb under the harsh conditions of Azteca and was a rock for the Americans. Maurice Edu typically plays central midfield, but was shifted to central defense for this match. Even though it isn’t his usual position, Edu handled the role like a capable veteran defender.
Immediately after the match, players began taking oxygen. Edu posted a photo on Instagram of the post-match celebrations that showed midfielder Jermaine Jones wearing an oxygen mask.
They had given it all at Azteca and finally wrote a winning chapter at the stadium that haunted them for decades.
After the U.S. Women’s team had captured the Gold Medal at the Olympics, the men’s team continued the injection of American pride by defeating Mexico in determined, dramatic and underdog fashion.
How does this rank among great American upsets? Follow Sean on Twitter and pass along your comments to him at — @HartnettWFAN.