Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He goes by the name of Michael Orozco Fiscal.
The dust is now just beginning to settle for the first ever victory by the USA in Mexico. And the win came in no other place than Aztec Stadium, notorious for tormenting the USMNT over the years. Although the Americans didn't play what you would call a beautiful soccer game, they played with grit, determination, and hard work. The Yanks kept grinding and playing defense for large stretches of the match. Just when it seemed like the USA would have to try to hang on for dear life just to notch the 2nd ever draw against El Tri in Mexico, a moment of unexpected glory happened.
Brek Shea raced down the left flank with the ball and crossed it into the box. Terrence Boyd, with his back to goal, collected the ball and back-heeled it towards the far post. Fortunately, Michael Orozco Fiscal was in the right place at the right time, and slid the ball home in the 80th minute, only a few minutes after entering the game. The game was not over however, as Mexico pushed the USA back into full defensive mode. Tim Howard was called on and made 2 huge saves, preserving the lead for the Americans. The first save had Tim going the wrong way due to a deflected Chicharito shot. Howard was able to reverse momentum, get a paw on the ball, and collect it before any further damage could be done. His other save was even crazier, stopping what seemed like a ball that was surely headed for the back of the net.
The seconds ticked away agonizingly for USA fans, and the final whistle eventually sounded. Although the game feature large stretches of possession by Mexico, the important things is that the US team showed a hallmark feature yet again: never quitting. How many times have we seen the team seemingly come back from the dead to score huge goals (2010 World Cup anyone?). Follow me after the break for a final few thoughts...
This is one of those weird victories that one does not normally visualize when they imagine their team winning. Looking at the stats, it is one of those games that you wonder how the winning team got the job done. The USA was out shot 19-7 (2 shots on goal for Mexico, 3 for US), lost the corner kick margin 10-0, and lost the possession battle 66% to 34%. At times the Americans seemed challenged to even push the ball into the attacking 3rd. But we got the job done somehow, someway, and that's what counts. A win is a win, even the ugly ones. And the USA was able to pull of the historic win with what could be thought of as a "B" team. Quite a few MLS players made an appearance, as well as many young players that only have a handful of caps with the Senior Team. There was no Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra, or Clint Dempsey. The USA did not use this as an excuse though, and some of the younger players took their chance to shine and ran with it. They were able to do something no American soccer team has ever done before. Take a minute to take that into perspective.
Apart from Tim Howard being Tim Howard and absolutely standing on his head, EPL newcomer Geoff Cameron really shined. He was steady at the back, made more than a few key plays, and opened many fans eyes. I know I am one of them. I really doubted he could go to Stoke and play. Well, I am happy to say I am eating crow tonight. He not only showed why Stoke bought him, but Geoff put out a notice that he could fight for a first team spot at Britannia Stadium sooner rather than later. The Potters and their fans have to be pleased with the performance Cameron dropped down tonight. I know USMNT fans certainly are. He made a believer out of me.
Another couple of players that caught my eye were youngsters Terrence Boyd and Brek Shea. Boyd has really shown some skill in his last few games, and he again showed promise and poise tonight. I really have high hopes for Terrence, and at 21 years of age, is nowhere close to his prime yet. This bodes very well for USMNT fans. Boyd was dangerous and nearly got onto the end of a couple of crosses. He always seems to work hard when he is in the game.
Shea has been more up-and-down in USMNT appearances in recent months. Given the trouble Shea has been having in Dallas of late, when he came on the pitch I really wondered what he could provide. The USA desperately needed a spark as Landon Donovan was subbed at half due to a hamstring injury. To be fair, Landon didn't have a good night and at times looked just plain out of it. Shea came in, brought energy and a few good plays, and set up the game winning goal. As I mentioned in the gamethread preview, he is one of the younger players that had the chance to step up in an oppressive environment like Aztec Stadium. And step up he did. It was quite a bounce back from where he has been the past handful of months.
Hercules Gomez also put in a good performance, and this is getting to be a commonplace occurrence for him lately. Most USMNT fans should be familiar with his work. He has had a resurgence of sorts in the past year or two, and has been on a hot streak since moving to the Mexican League in 2010. This has carried through to his recent USMNT play. He has given the National Team another legit striking option up top. Although he didn't score tonight, he worked hard and created a couple of chances. I am a big fan of Herc and always enjoy watching him play.
I am also happy with Jurgen Klinsmann's continued overhaul and progression of the team. If you have read any of my USMNT pieces, you would know I have repeatedly called for patience, asking for fans to hold off judgment until WCQ started-at least. I think he needs another year to really put his mark on the team, having been head coach for barely over a year at this point. At the 1 year mark, I would have to say he has done very well. Although the team got off to a shaky start under him, he has overseen victories vs. Italy and now Mexico at Aztec. His work is far from done but I think we can all admit now that he brings refreshing change to our National Team. The next couple of years heading up to the World Cup are going to be fun.
In the end, let's all enjoy tonight's victory. Was it pretty? No. Did it win the World Cup? No. Did it win a Gold Medal? No. But what it did do is serve notice that we are on the rise and good things are happening in the world of US Soccer. We did something we have never done before. While it may not seem like a big deal to other countries, each wall broken down like this marks our progress on the road of improvement. Each time the team can achieve new heights, a even loftier goal than the last one is crossed off the list. Sooner or later the goals above us will be much fewer in number than the goals completed. That's when we know we are truly throwing punches with the world's best teams. While that could still be many years off if not longer, the ladder is being built for progress. That's all we can ask for. Soccer in the USA faces unique challenges that the sport does not face in other countries. And we are overcoming those challenges and striving for new ones. Tonight's historic victory should make any USMNT fan proud of what we have accomplished and where we are headed. These are truly exciting times for US Soccer.