MEXICO CITY — The U.S. got a useful point on the road in Estadio Azteca, tying archrival Mexico 1-1 in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday that had an electric first half before settling down into a battle of attrition in the second half.
Michael Bradley’s 40-yard wondergoal put the U.S. ahead in the sixth minute and silenced the sellout crowd, except for the raucous members of the American Outlaws celebrating in an upper corner of the stadium.
But Mexico’s Carlos Vela tied the score at 1-1 17 minutes later on the break when he beat DaMarcus Beasley, who didn’t have nearly enough defensive help. Mexico largely bottled up rising U.S. star Christian Pulisic, who grew visibly frustrated at times, as did U.S. forward Bobby Wood.
It was the third time the U.S. had gotten a point in World Cup qualifying at the Azteca, along with games in 1997 and 2013. The U.S. has never won a World Cup qualifier here.
The result gave the U.S. eight points after six games in the 10-game Hexagonal and means that the Americans will be in no worse than fourth place in the standings after the round’s other two games are played on Tuesday.
The top three teams will qualify automatically for World Cup 2018, while the fourth-place finisher will move on to an intercontinental playoff with the Asian fifth-place team for a spot at Russia 2018.
Here are three thoughts on the game:
A point in the Azteca is always a good result for the United States
Mexico may have dominated possession, and El Tri may have had more good scoring opportunities in the end, but getting a tie in World Cup qualifying in Estadio Azteca—and doing so after making seven changes to the starting lineup from Thursday’s win against Trinidad and Tobago—will be viewed as mission accomplished for U.S. coach Bruce Arena. U.S. fans would have taken that score in a heartbeat before the game. But yes, there’s also a sense of U.S. disappointment that the Americans couldn’t hold on to their early 1-0 lead. Ultimately, the game turned on one sequence in the first half, when Wood missed a golden opportunity to make it 2-0 on one end, only for Mexico’s Vela to score the equalizer at the other end.
The U.S. had more scoring chances than expected
Bradley’s wondergoal—his greatest goal in a U.S. uniform—was a remarkable play. In the sixth minute, the U.S. captain intercepted a pass from Javier "Chicharito" Hernández to Héctor Herrera in the center circle, then accelerated into space and chipped a 40-yard shot over a helpless Guillermo Ochoa into the net.
But while Bradley’s goal was a thing of beauty, other U.S. chances went wanting. Omar González could have scored on a couple headers but wasn’t able to finish. Wood’s miss was a brutally tough one for the U.S., and Bradley hit the woodwork in the 74th minute on what would have been another amazing strike.
Arena has stabilized the U.S. men’s national team
If you win at home and tie on the road, you’ll qualify for the World Cup. It’s that simple, and that remains Arena’s one and only job after taking over last November following two straight Hexagonal losses by Jurgen Klinsmann’s team.
One measure of Arena’s confidence in his team is how he was able to make those seven changes in the lineup, pick the right guys and give them the belief that it could work out. Ultimately, a coach’s tinkering will always be judged by the answer to one question: Did it work? And Arena’s track record in making decisions that work is a good one.
This U.S. team isn’t going to win the Hexagonal, but that doesn’t matter. It is going to qualify for the World Cup, though, and Arena deserves a lot of credit.