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STRANGLEHOLD BROKEN

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When the U.S. came away with an historic 1-0 win over host Mexico in an international friendly at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on Wednesday, Aug. 15, it severed a 75-year-old psychological stranglehold that Mexico held over its most fierce CONCACAF rival. It may possibly signal a new era in this very competitive rivalry – one that could lead to more U. S. wins south of the border.

Before the historic win at Azteca, the U.S had failed in its quest for victory there in its previous 24 tries, managing only a 0-0 draw against 23 defeats since 1937. Also significant is the fact that new U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has not lost to Mexico in his two matches against the Tri-colors, since taking over from Bob Bradley last summer. The U.S. tied Mexico in Klinsmann’s only other encounter, but this time, two substitutes combined to get the win: defender Michael Orozco Fiscal, of Mexican descent, scored in the 80th minute off an assist from forward Terrence Boyd during a goalmouth scramble.

The victory does much for the Americans’ psyche, especially considering the way it was achieved. The untried U.S. team - with only four regular starters in goalkeeper Tim Howard, Maurice Edu, Landon Donovan and Jermaine Jones – were outplayed in midfield but preserved the shutout. The victory could signal the start of a new generation of players with fearless intent when playing south of the border.

There are those who won’t give much credence to the U.S. win because the game was a friendly, but they underestimate the psychological significance at stake. The U.S. considers Mexico its staunchest opponent in the region and the only team that prevents it carrying the label of ‘best in CONCACAF’ a longstanding U.S. ambition and one that is expected to be realized with Klinsmann at the helm. Being the best in CONCACAF is part of the campaign to take the ‘U.S. to the next level’ or, in other words, beyond CONCACAF and be considered a serious contender to win the World Cup.

The rivalry makes these teams better; beyond the U.S. and Mexico, the rivalry also strengthens the Confederation as the other national teams such as Honduras, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Panama, Guatemala and others in the region constantly try to close the gap between them and the CONCACAF big two.

In Mexico City on the historic night, Howard got his 28th international shutout and confirmed his status as one of the best, if not the best, goalkeeper in the world; he exhibited tremendous leadership. “It took a lot of grit and determinat­ion,” Howard said. “We went out there and played our hearts out tonight. It’s not lost on any of us that we made history. We’re just so proud of those guys. We worked hard. We played well and we had to weather their storm most of the game and we did that.”

Midfielder Edu played at central defense with young Geoff Cameron, and in helping to preserve the shutout, showed his versatility; Jones and Donovan were steady as usual and Fabian Johnson, moved from his customary left defensive position to the right, was also model in versatility.

“We were well aware that we’ve never won here at Azteca and this is an amazing experience for all the players,” Klinsmann said. “We told them before the game, ‘This moment is for you, go and grab it.’ We are aware that is was a lot of work. Tim Howard kept us in the game I don’t know how many times. It was an absolutely fantastic performance by Tim. Also, the back line was holding their strength for the whole 90 minutes. It was a fantastic team performance. We know we still have to improve in many elements. We have to keep the ball longer, we have to create more chances and we have to do a lot of work still, but I think this gives us a lot of confidence.”

Red Bulls rally

The New York Red Bulls (13-7-5, 44 pts.) rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win, 3-2, and keep the Portland Timbers still winless on the road. The Timbers came into Red Bull Arena Sunday night with eight defeats and three draws on the road, but for approximately the first 40 minutes, it looked as though the visitors would get their first road victory of the season.

Portland (5-13-6, 21 pts) had a very positive approach to the game and certainly didn’t look like a team that was winless away from home. Good ball movement and running off the ball led to Bright Dike’s eighth-minute goal for a 1-0 Portland lead; Darlington Nagbe scored within 15 minutes later to give Portland a convincing 2-0 lead, but Red Bulls substitute Kenny Cooper pulled a goal back in the 42nd minute, and teammate Tim Cahill scored on a controversial goal just before the half to level the score at 2-2. Heath Pierce got the winner in the 83rd minute when he headed in a Thierry Henry corner kick. New York Red Bulls is undefeated in 12 games at home. Both goal keepers were outstanding: Donovan Ricketts for Portland and Bill Gaudette for the Red Bulls.

In other MLS games last weekend, Montreal beat San Jose, 3-1; Chicago topped New England, 2-1; Colorado and Chivas USA played to a 1-1 draw and so did DC United and Philadelphia; Houston and Columbus drew 2-2; and Sporting Kansas City knocked off Toronto FC, 1-0.

Updated 3:05 am, July 10, 2018:
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