For the second time in less than eight months, the U.S. men's national team went into the vaunted Estadio Azteca and walked away with heads held high.
August's friendly might have resulted in victory -- and perhaps paved the way for future success -- but Tuesday's World Cup qualifying draw resulted in a greater sense of accomplishment. With all of the pressure on Mexico to deliver and with the U.S. operating with a makeshift back line consisting of a largely untested central defense partnership trying to handle Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, the Americans salvaged a historic 0-0 draw. For just the second time in seven attempts, Team USA managed to not lose in a qualifier at Azteca, and is now 0-5-2 at a place that has traditionally been a house of horrors.
Considering where the U.S. mindset was at this time last week and where it is now, it is safe to say that the Americans have emerged from the depths of despair and found a smooth landing spot off which it can build when CONCACAF hexagonal qualifiers resume in June. Here are the U.S. player ratings from Tuesday's battle with rival Mexico (as always, on a scale from 0-10).
GK, Brad Guzan, 7.5 -- Guzan did his finest Tim Howard impersonation to post his second consecutive clean sheet in qualifying. Not that he had to make a ton of saves, because Mexico rarely threatened his goal directly, but he exuded confidence, which was evident from his aggressive play to charge off his line and clash with Jesus Zavala to punch away a chipped ball into his area. Guzan commanded his box, made every play that was asked of him and came up huge with his late save. There's no question that he's capable of filling the void if Howard is to miss any more time during the qualifying cycle and beyond.
D, Geoff Cameron, 5 -- Cameron became the victim of Giovani Dos Santos' early runs before Mexico turned its attention to the other side of the field. It was apparent that Cameron needed assistance and cover when being targeted 1-on-1, and Graham Zusi and Omar Gonzalez did well to provide that for him. Not Cameron's finest night, but it was a step forward from his showing against Costa Rica.
D, Omar Gonzalez, 8 -- What a difference a couple of games make. After the USA's loss in Honduras, Gonzalez was chided for not being ready for the moment. Now, he's a man among boys, ready for any stage. Gonzalez was an absolute beast in the heart of the U.S. defense, building off his improved showing against Costa Rica to turn in the finest performance of his young U.S. career. Dominant in the air and always in the right position to cut out Mexico's most dangerous moments, Gonzalez stood tallest in an overall great, organized team effort in the back. Sky's the limit.
D, Matt Besler, 7.5 -- In earning his first World Cup qualifying cap and second cap overall after Clarence Goodson had to pull out with a hamstring injury, Besler looked mighty comfortable in the most hostile of CONCACAF atmospheres. He only had one other chance to partner with Gonzalez, doing so against Canada in a dull January friendly, and never really got tested to see what he could and could not handle. As it turns out, he could handle pretty much anything. He worked well in tandem with both Beasley to his left and Gonzalez to his right, and the foul he committed that earned him a yellow card helped break up a promising Mexico sequence.
D, DaMarcus Beasley, 6 -- Beasley was picked on repeatedly by Mexico, with winger Javier Aquino having his way for the majority of the night. That said, Beasley never wilted as he earned his 99th cap, and he managed to stay physical and active despite picking up an early yellow card for taking down Aquino from behind. Beasley took a beating throughout the night -- on the heels of needing dental work following a head-to-head collision with Gonzalez on Friday -- but he stayed strong for 90 minutes and gutted out the performance in an unnatural position. The quintessential team player.
M, Graham Zusi, 5.5 -- Zusi offered almost nothing going forward, but his defensive work earned him a passing grade for the night. Two instances, specifically, stood out from Zusi's night. His clean, first-half tackle from behind to swipe the ball off Andres Guardado was textbook execution, and his hustle to cover a ton of ground and prevent a cross from reaching its intended, unmarked target by the far post with about 15 minutes to go just about saved the match.
M, Michael Bradley, 6 -- Bradley's night could have been remembered in a completely different light had referee Walter Lopez not overruled his assistant referee and whistled the American field general for an early penalty after he appeared to deliver a two-handed push to Chicharito's back. Instead, the play went uncalled, and Bradley went on to expend a ton of energy in chasing the ball and providing cover for his back line. According to statistics outfit Opta, Bradley was 57-for-58 passing, and he generally took care of the ball. He started and almost completed the top attacking sequence of the night, a series of one-touch passes down the center that resulted in Jorge Torres Nilo tackling the ball from Bradley before he could get his shot off in the box. Another solid, though perhaps under-noticed, performance.
M, Maurice Edu, 4 -- Edu slotted into the starting lineup for the injured Jermaine Jones, and he did some good things, including helping to provide assistance and cover for Beasley while also being involved in the promising build-up play. Edu's most memorable contributions, though, were him giving the ball away deep in his own end and committing what very easily could have been whistled for a game-altering penalty after he clattered into Aquino from behind in the area. Like Bradley was with his incident, Edu was fortunate to get away with that play, but he did not exactly make a statement in his chance to stake a claim to a starting role.
M, Clint Dempsey, 5 -- Dempsey donned the captain's armband again and spent plenty of time dipping deep with the U.S. on its back heels for most of the game. Per usual, he tried to force the issue on occasion, and when the U.S. was pushing forward, Dempsey was the one in the middle of it all, but he never really threatened Guillermo Ochoa's goal. Keep in mind, too, that Dempsey was playing his second set of 90 minutes at high altitude after being out of action for almost a month with Tottenham as he nursed a calf injury.
M, Herculez Gomez, 5.5 -- Much can be said about Gomez doing little to contribute to the attack, but when the U.S. was seeing as little of the ball as it was, Gomez found a way to make himself useful. He put in tireless work to track back and help cover for Beasley on the left side and was eventually taken off in the 71st minute with the U.S. in search of fresh legs to kill off the game.
F, Jozy Altidore, 4 -- The U.S. was always going to have way less of the ball Tuesday than it did against Costa Rica on Friday, and as a result, Altidore wound up isolated on Mexico's center backs with little in the way of outlets to receive the ball. Direct balls over the top were gobbled up by defenders, and the U.S. wingers were too busy tracking back to even have the opportunity to find Altidore in the attack. Aside from his role in the one-touch combination up the middle Altidore was largely frustrated, and his giveaway in the attacking third sparked an immediate Mexico counterattack. Subbed off in the 55th minute, it was not a memorable night from a personal standpoint for the AZ Alkmaar star striker.
F, Eddie Johnson, 4.5 -- Johnson came on for Altidore in the 55th minute in hopes of offering a jolt to the U.S. attack, but he didn't offer a whole lot of a different look up top, nor did he do much to come back and show for the ball or try to win it defensively. With Mexico dominating the run of play, it was difficult for any U.S. attacker to find a rhythm offensively, and Johnson fell in line with that.
M, Brad Davis, 4 -- Davis did not even dress for the Costa Rica match, so to be called upon late in the second half at Azteca was a bit of a shift in gears. He never got a chance to deliver service off set pieces, nor was he effective on the ball. Davis also got away with committing a late foul that earned him a yellow card and granted Mexico a free kick in a dangerous place. Not exactly a substitution that paid dividends, but he provided fresh legs for a gassed Gomez.
M, Brek Shea, 4 -- Shea did not quite make the same impact as he did in coming off the bench at Azteca back in August, when he helped set up the game-deciding goal. Klinsmann gambled a bit by bringing on the attack-minded substitute late with an eye on stealing the result, but Shea never got a chance to get on the ball and work his magic up the flank.