It sits over a mile above sea level. Inside its walls are over 105,000 seats that at kickoff are filled with some of the world's most hostile fans. On the field itself is the Mexican national football team. A team just coming off a gold medal in the 2012 London Olympics, a team that does not lose at home and a team that hates the United States.
Welcome to Estadio Azteca. Now good luck.
That was the situation the United States national team faced tonight in Mexico City, but let's make the situation even more extreme.
Over the course of the 75 years that the United States has played games in Mexico they are a horrendous 0-23-1. The United States will also played the game without key players Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore, Carlos Bocanegra, Steve Cherundolo and Oguchi Onyewu.
Now, you get the idea of how impossible the task was tonight for the United States.
Even the most diehard United States fans could not play out an outcome in their mind in which the United States would leave Azteca on Wednesday night with a victory. It seemed as if the only ones who believed a victory was possible were the only ones who needed too, Team USA themselves.
"I'm not thinking that we're going to lose", United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said at his press conference on Tuesday (h/t soccernet.ESPN.go.com). “We will get a lot of answers with a couple of players,” he said. “But if you don’t risk those moments, if you don’t try things out, then you will never know. There’s always a question of when do you try things out and give players opportunities. We have to use those moments, and that’s why I told a couple of established players to stay behind in Europe, because I want to see some other players, see where they are. And some players in Europe, they are not as sharp yet as they should be, in my opinion. So I told them I want to see some different faces.
Even though Klinsmann sounded confident, the fans all knew that he would not be putting the United States' best out on the pitch in Azteca. And to a lot of fans, that meant they should be ready to expect another loss in Mexico.
But Wednesday night would not yield another loss to Mexico. As the game wore on into the night in Mexico City, United States fans continued to hope that their team could hang with Mexico, but in the 80th minute the hope turned into belief as United States substitute Brek Shea brought the ball down the left side of the pitch.
Shea then crossed the ball in to Terrence Boyd who made a quick backheel pass to Michael Orozco Fiscal, and one kick of the football later the United States could finally see a light at the end of a dark tunnel 75 years in the making. They led Mexico 1-0 in Azteca and were 10 minutes away from sealing up a victory that no one really saw coming.
Victory, though, was still far from a certainty. For the final minutes of the game Mexico gave the United States defense all they could handle. Goalie Tim Howard, who was huge all night, came up with two incredible saves in the waning moments to preserve the United States' one-goal lead. Then, after one final clear of the football in the final minute of stoppage time, the referee's whistle blew and a group of happy Americans rushed the pitch.
They had finally won in Azteca and finally ended the 75-year drought in Mexico.
In his interview after the game coach Klinsmann had a lot to say, but he ended it on this note, "We had a plan, and we tried to execute that plan. And getting that win here it's quite enjoyable," he said, as a smile crept across his face.
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