Bruce Arena chopped and changed his lineup on Sunday, and the USMNT came away with a 1-1 draw against Mexico at Azteca Stadium. Michael Bradley scored on a 35 yard chipped goal in the 6th minute, but the lead lasted until just the 23rd minute, when Carlos Vela scored on a well placed shot. Both teams hit the woodwork in the second half, but the USA escaped with the point, picking up four from the two qualifiers this round.
Arena made seven changes to the team that beat Trinidad and Tobago 2-0 on Thursday, while also moving to a five-man defense. Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Geoff Cameron, and DeAndre Yedlin were the only holdovers from the win in Commerce City, Colorado. Joining them were Brad Guzan, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley, Kellyn Acosta, Paul Arriola, and Bobby Wood.
Though it was clear that Arena set his team up in Mexico City to grind out a result, it was a spectacular goal from Bradley that got the first half off to a flying start. Intercepting a pass in midfield, Bradley had a quick look up at goal, and saw Guillermo Ochoa. Bradley already had the shot lined up, and perfectly placed his shot over the reeling Ochoa for a shock 1-0 lead.
Being in Azteca, in front of all those fans, in the altitude, Mexico were always going to have plenty of chances to get back into the game, especially with more than 80 minutes left after the Bradley goal. Mexico’s first threat came in the 14th minute, after they played a quick free kick in the US’ half. Jonathan dos Santos picked up the pass, found his target, and fired a grass cutter that skipped just past Guzan and the post.
In the 20th minute, Javier Hernandez made his first appearance in front of goal, after Vela chipped a ball over the back line for Chicharito. Chicharito beat Guzan to the ball, lifting a ball towards goal. The two collided, leaving Chicharito in a heap in the box, as Gonzalez cleared the ball out for a corner.
Three minutes later, Wood’s whiff in front of goal led to the goal for Vela. A second ball into the box from a set piece was headed into the middle by Ream. Wood was able to knock it down for himself, setting the striker up for a shot from close range. But, with defenders nearby, Wood missed the shot, and Ochoa quickly grabbed the ball and threw it up to midfield.
Though the US didn’t have a bunch of numbers forward, the counter attack was on, with Chicharito corralling the throw from Ochoa. Chicharito skipped past one challenge from Acosta before playing out wide to Vela. Vela was isolated against Beasley, cut in towards the middle of the field - where no recovering Americans were helping out - and fired a low shot past Guzan, who was wrong footed as the shot came in.
Injury delays for Marco Fabian and Beasley slowed the pace down in a hectic first half, but the US had a chance to get back ahead in the 39th minute. From a short corner kick, Arriola lifted the ball into the box. Gonzalez got up highest to win the header, but with Ochoa coming to try to claim the ball, Gonzalez sent his header well wide of the goal.
The second half didn’t quite have the same zip as the first half, though there were still chances for both sides to find a winner. Mexico had a chance early on, as dos Santos sent a corner into the box. Carlos Saucedo got to the ball first, but his guided effort was wide of the goal, and there was no touch at the back post that might have meant a goal.
Hector Herrera almost fired Mexico ahead in the 71st minute, as he beat Guzan with a free kick. Herrera’s shot had the requisite speed to beat the wall and Guzan, but instead of rippling the net, the shot smashed off of the crossbar and bounced clear.
Three minutes later, Bradley nearly scored a wonderful second goal, only to be denied by the woodwork. From a short free kick near the sideline, Bradley found himself with space in the middle of the field, and laced a bouncing ball towards goal. Ochoa was close to getting a hand on the shot, but it instead hit the outside of the post, out for a corner, and saving Mexico’s blushes.
Mexico had their best chance in the 79th minute, but Javier Aquino couldn’t capitalize at the back post. A cross into the box got the slightest of touches from Orbelin Pineda, finding Aquino at the far post. But Aquino was on the run, and had to slide into his effort, which resulted in him hitting the ball well over the goal.
The final chance of the game fell to Pulisic in the 88th minute. A long goal kick from Guzan was headed on by Jozy Altidore, who was a late substitute for Wood. Pulisic picked up the ball, and with two touches, worked his was into the middle of the field, but his curling attempt was always wide, as he wasn’t able to properly position himself to get a shot on target.
Mexico prodded for a winner late on, but several corners and crosses into the box could only tease the home support, as the US successfully saw out the three minutes of stoppage time.
With eight points from six games, the US is currently sitting in third place in the CONCACAF Hexagonal group for Russia 2018 qualifying. They resume their qualifying in September, when they host Costa Rica on September 1st, and travel to Honduras on September 5th.