Michael Bradley scored a stunning early goal from about 40 yards and the U.S. hung on for a 1-1 tie against Mexico in a World Cup qualifier on Sunday night, gaining only its third point at Azteca Stadium as coach Bruce Arena changed seven starters and used a five-man defense to overcome the thin air and short recovery time.
Bradley put the U.S. ahead in the sixth minute when he deflected a poor backpass by Mexican star Javier Hernandez and created his own breakaway.
Carlos Vela tied the score in the 23rd minute with a 23-yard shot that beat goalkeeper Brad Guzan to the near post and Hector Herrera nearly put El Tri ahead in the 71st with a 30-yard free kick that rebounded off the crossbar.
With its second draw in three road qualifiers, the U.S. continued to recover from its awful 0-2 start last fall and prompted chants of “U-S-A!” from the American Outlaws section in the upper deck.
“It’s a shame to give away the goal that we did,” Bradley said. “Any time you can get a point here it’s great…. Now we can move ourselves forward.”
Mexico leads the final round of the North and Central American and Caribbean region with 14 points, followed by Costa Rica (eight), the U.S. (seven), Panama (six), Honduras (four) and Trinidad and Tobago three. The top three advance to next year’s World Cup in Russia and the fourth-place team faces Asia’s No. 5 nation in a playoff.
Panama hosts Honduras on Tuesday when Costa Rica is home against T&T. Mexico was trying to sweep the Americans in a qualifying cycle for the first time 1972. The U.S. was 0-19-1 in Mexico City getting outscored 81-14 before a 1-0 exhibition win in 2012.
The U.S. held Mexico to 0-0 in qualifiers at Azteca in 1997 and 2013, with Estadio Azteca at 7,820 feet above sea level and just two off days between games, Arena paid close attention to recovery time and tested his roster’s depth.
Bradley, one of just four holdovers in the U.S. starting lineup from Thursday night’s 2-0 home win over Trinidad, stunned the boisterous crowd of about 81,000. Hector Moreno passed to Hernandez, who passed back for Herrera in the center circle.
Reading the play, Bradley quickly stepped up and knocked the ball toward Mexico’s goal. Bradley sprinted to catch up with the ball, and when he reached it lofted a right-footed shot from about 40 yards over goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa’s outstretched left arm and under the crossbar.
An exuberant Bradley ran to the end line and raised the badge on his jersey to the several thousand red-white-and-blue-clad fans. He became just the fifth American to score at Azteca, joining Michael Orozco (2012), Charlie Davies (2009), Eddie Lewis (2005), Ricky Davis (1980), Willy Roy (1972).
Bobby Wood failed in to knock in an open shot from close range that could have made it 2-0, and Vela scored on a counterattack. Ochoa made a long outlet throw to Hernandez, who passed to Vela on the right flank. He dribbled around DaMarcus Beasley and across the top of the penalty area, and from the arc beat Guzan.
Fans booed and whistled “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as usual when the Americans play in Mexico, and there was an occasional T-shirt disparaging U.S. President Donald Trump.
A downpour began during second-half injury time. Guzan took over in a goal from Tim Howard, and Beasley, Tim Ream and Omar Gonzalez joined the back line in a 5-4-1 formation. Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola were in midfield and Wood at forward. In addition to Bradley, 18-year-old midfielder Christian Pulisic remained in the lineup along with right back DeAndre Yedlin and center back Geoff Cameron.
Beasley at 35 became the first American to appear in qualifiers of five World Cup cycles. He had not started for the U.S. since the October 2015 loss to Mexico in a playoff for a Confederations Cup berth.
Mexico was trying to sweep the Americans in a qualifying cycle for the first time 1972. Bradley is encouraged by the Americans’ progress under Arena. “Look, we were pretty honest with ourselves and we had let a lot of little things drop,” he said.