MEXICO CITY — A resolute U.S. team Sunday night pulled off a rare feat in one of the most inhospitable and intimidating soccer stadiums in the world.
The Americans walked out of Estadio Azteca with a precious away point after surviving a 1-1 draw with heavily favored Mexico in a hard-fought World Cup qualifying match.
To appreciate the USA’s achievement, the Americans recorded a result here for only the third time in 12 qualifying tries (1-8-3) in the altitude and rarefied air Mexican capital since 1949. They also registered ties in 1997 and 2013. They are 1-8-3 in qualifiers here.
“Any time you can get a point here it’s great,” said captain Michael Bradley, who scored the lone U.S. goal. “Now we can move ourselves forward.”
Added goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who replaced Tim Howard in goal: “It puts us back to where we want to be. We want to make sure we continue this momentum.”
The U.S. (2-2-2, 8 points), which started the year last in the CONCACAF hexagonal, are in third place thanks to a 2-0-2 revival under coach Bruce Arena.
Mexico (4-0-2, 14) added to its group lead.
“We were certainly positioned to get three points,” Arena said. “It’s not easy in the hex [six-team field] to win on the road. We were close tonight. I’m proud of the result. I’m a little greedy. I would have liked to have had three points.”
It might not have been one of the prettiest American qualifying matches, but it had to be one of the gutsiest performances.
Because the team had only three days from Thursday’s 2-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, Arena made seven changes in his starting 11. He also deployed five defenders. Geoff Cameron, one of the Thursday holdovers, was superb in leading a backline that blocked, kicked or headed out most of Mexico’s shots and crosses.
Bradley became only the sixth American to score at Azteca in the sixth minute, when he intercepted a Javier Hernandez pass, raced in on goal and snapped a 35-yard line drive over the head of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa.
“We watched a lot of video on some of their movements,” Bradley said. “We knew at certain moments that Chicharito was going to come to the ball. I felt like I was able to read what we wanted to do and step in.”
Only 15 seconds after Bobby Wood had his close-range shot blocked, Mexico countered as Carlos Vela equalized from just outside the box past Guzan into the lower right corner in the 23rd minute.
“It’s a shame to give away the goal that we did,” said Bradley, who rocketed a long-range blast off the right post in the 74th minute.