It’s nicknamed “The Hex” for a reason.
In Tuesday’s early CONCACAF qualifiers Costa Rica beat Jamaica, 2-0, to pick up their first win of the six-team mini-tournament and Panama, who now head the standings with five points, shut out former table-toppers Honduras by the same scoreline.
Those results served to tighten a bracket that was already competitive, and in the late kickoff, the United States’ scoreless draw in Mexico City pulled the Americans into a three-way tie for second-place alongside Costa Rica and Honduras.
Mexico, who have drawn all three of their matches in The Hex so far, are second from the bottom, with only Jamaica—on two points—below them.
It goes without saying that if the United States were going to pick up a point at the Azteca, they were always going to need a handful of all-world performances, and they got those in bunches on Tuesday. Mexico, conversely, created little, despite dominating possession, and some questions will, no doubt, be asked of manager Jose Manuel de la Torre’s squad in the coming days.
The referee, too, was more noticeable than he might have been.
The following slides reveal three “winners” and three “losers” from Tuesday’s match, beginning with the losers.
The 32-year-old referee denied Mexico a pair of penalties on Tuesday—one he might be able to claim was embellished by Javier Hernandez and the other a clear decision he simply got wrong.
Hernandez went to ground early in the first half after being pushed from behind, and while the sideline official motioned for a foul on the play, Lopez overruled him, allowing play to continue.
But it was his second non-call that really enraged the Mexico bench.
Maurice Edu, who was mostly solid in a very defensive role, tackled Javier Aquino from behind midway through the second half and, as he got none of the ball, should have been penalized, but again, Lopez waved play on, denying the hosts a second penalty.
Javier Hernandez came into Tuesday’s match having scored each of Mexico’s last three goals and four of their previous six. He was also riding a five-match goalscoring streak in World Cup qualification.
But after getting a few chances in the early going, the Manchester United forward faded at the Azteca, although his ineffectiveness can be seen as an indictment on his supporting cast as much as a reflection of his own play.
Mexico desperately need someone other than Hernandez to rise to the occasion and chip in offensively, but as that didn’t happen on Tuesday, what they really needed was for Hernandez to continue his run.
Both of Mexico’s wide attackers were handed matchups they were expected to win, but at the final whistle, neither of the two had made a meaningful impact.
Guardado was successfully double-teamed by Geoff Cameron and Graham Zusi over the 90 minutes, and somehow, Aquino couldn’t win his battle against makeshift United States left-back DaMarcus Beasley.
When Mexico are at their best, their wide players tend to make important contributions, and that certainly wasn’t the case on Tuesday night.
Retained in the starting XI following Saturday’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica in Denver, Graham Zusi shone against Mexico at the Azteca.
Even as the Americans’ attacking forays became fewer and farther between, the Sporting Kansas City midfielder took to his defensive responsibilities with the same gusto he has typically demonstrated going forward.
Midway through the second half, with Guardado making a menacing run deep in the United States’ defensive third, Zusi won the ball off him cleanly from behind and turned the play in the opposite direction.
It was his evening in a nutshell.
If DaMarcus Beasley did a decent enough job as a fill-in at left-back against Costa Rica, he was positively heroic against Mexico.
With Fabian Johnson unavailable due to injury, Beasley—typically a winger—deputized admirably on the left of the defense at the Azteca and made life extremely difficult for the tricky Javier Aquino throughout Tuesday’s match.
And he took a pounding.
On at least two occasions it looked as though the 30-year-old was going to have to come off with a leg injury, but he powered through and played a vital role in a historic result.
This round of qualifying began with a story in the Sporting News claiming several United States internationals were unhappy with the direction of the team under manager Jurgen Klinsmann. It ended with four of a possible six points and an impressive result away to Mexico.
Klinsmann kept the faith with the team that earned a vital 1-0 win over Costa Rica in snowy Denver, replacing only the injured Jermaine Jones and Clarence Goodson.
Handed a difficult assignment due to the absences of goalkeeper Tim Howard, defenders Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson and Steve Cherundulo and the AWOL Landon Donovan, he nevertheless managed to select a side that achieved its objectives in difficult and various circumstances.
The decision to start Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler alongside one another in the centre of defense seemed inspired, and with the United States back in the thick of it in the Hex, perhaps the German has earned himself some reprieve from the recent pressure.