Kick Off: USMNT secures historic point in Mexico, back on track in Hex

Here are the Top 15 soccer stories we’re following today:

1. MAKING A POINT

You can breathe now. They did it … just barely. The US national team held on for a nail-biting 0-0 draw against Mexico in Estadio Azteca on Tuesday night, securing just the second World Cup qualifying point ever-gained by a US side in Mexico. Brad Guzan came up big late on and a staunch defensive display thwarted El Tri, who outshot the US 19-1. Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann was delighted: “The team was organized, was connected, was committed, it was an unbelievable team effort.” Watch ESPN’s highlights.

2. YOUNG MLS DEFENDERS DAZZLE

In 75 home World Cup qualifiers, Mexico have lost just once. So asking for a repeat of last August’s friendly win at the Azteca was perhaps a stretch. But that wasn’t part of the US’ plan as two young MLS defenders proved pivotal in the shutout. Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler looked as if they had 100 international caps between them … in reality, they have eight combined. "We have a great understanding of how each other play, a good partnership," Besler said. "And I love playing with Omar.” Gonzalez echoed that. “Going down the line I think that could be a good pairing."

Sidenote: All 14 players the USMNT used in the historic draw are currently playing, or have played in, MLS.

3. PLAYER RATINGS: GONZALEZ AND GUZAN SHINE

The saying “there’s no ‘I’ in team” doesn’t do the USA’s total team performance justice, check out our ratings. Each man put their own individual agendas aside and scrapped for the Yanks as if their life depended on it. With the 0-0 tie, the USMNT improved to 0-13-2 in World Cup qualifying matches in Mexico. Here are ratings from SI.com, Goal.com and The New York Times.

4. TWO PKs NOT CALLED FOR MEXICO?

On at least two occasions it seemed as if Mexico’s players were about to blow a gasket over missed PK calls. In the first half, Michael Bradley seemed to shove Javier Hernández in the box, then late in the second Maurice Edu lunged in but no penalty was given. “I think [the refereeing] was totally fine,” Klinsmann said. "I think overall [the referee] just really did his job." Chicharito didn’t agree. “The team feels bad and a little hot-headed because we know we can’t do anything,” Hernández said. “It’s now two games where [decisions] have influenced a little and it hurts.”

5. CAN’T BEAT BRAD

Stepping in for Tim Howard is never easy. But doing so in two crucial World Cup qualifiers in five days? That takes guts. And Guzan made some great stops late in the USA’s historic draw in Mexico City. “The back four, myself, everybody tonight put in a really good shift,” he said. “In terms of working for another and making sure we got a result.” The Aston Villa ‘keeper recorded his second consecutive shutout and will give Klinsmann a big selection headache when Howard returns from injury. 

6. MEXICAN MEDIA REACTS

“El Tri disappoints in Azteca,” reads the front page of La Jornada this morning. While Reforma’s front page has a picture of Chicharito looking to the heaven’s in despair, while Esto ran the headline, “¡Veladoras encendidas!” next to a photo of Guzan stopping Hernandez once again. So could José Manuel “Chepo” de la Torre be on his way out? Goal.com says Mexico are under pressure, while apparently they aren’t getting the lucky breaks.

7. PANAMA, COSTA RICA RECORD SHUTOUT WINS

Elsewhere in CONCACAF, results largely went in favor of the US, as Honduras and Jamaica both suffered 2-0 defeats to Panama and Costa Rica respectively. Blas Pérez was on target for Panama, while elsewhere two other MLSers, Estonia’s Joel Lindepre and Australia's Tim Cahill, were on the score sheet.

8. ALL TO PLAY FOR IN THE HEX

So after three games played, the US sit third in Hexagonal qualifying – click here for the standings – with four points and occupy the final automatic berth for Brazil 2014. Panama somewhat surprisingly lead the way with five points, but they’ve yet to play the US or Mexico. Costa Rica and Honduras join the US on four points, while Mexico have three and Jamaica are bottom but are just a win away from top spot. Who said the Hex is boring?

9. GALAXY HONORED AT WHITE HOUSE, DONOVAN RETURNS

There’s perhaps no better way to announce your arrival back on the soccer scene than leading your team up the White House lawn and being honored by President Obama. Welcome back, Landon. The Galaxy and Stanley Cup-winning neighbors, the Los Angeles Kings, were honored by Obama on Tuesday in the lead up to the US-Mexico game. And President Obama was presented with a Galaxy jersey by none other than Landon Donovan, who made his first official public appearance with LA since his sabbatical.

10. FIFA RULES ON US-COSTA RICA BLIZZARD MATCH

Relax. It was only a few flakes of snow. In a nutshell that was the message from FIFA on Tuesday, as they ruled the USA’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica in a snowy Denver last Friday would stand. After a protest from the Costa Rican soccer federation, FIFA had this to say. “Taking into consideration article 14, paragraph 4 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup regulations, the conditions established in the regulations for an official protest have not been met by the Costa Rica FA." The heroic Denver ground staff who got the pitch ready for the qualifier deserve a medal, (they got a signed shovel from the USMNT instead) find out who they are.

11. BRADLEY RULING EGYPT

Former USMNT head coach Bob Bradley had cause for celebration on Tuesday as his Egypt side remains perfect in World Cup qualifying after a late 2-1 victory over Zimbabwe. The game marked the first-time the Pharoahs have played in front of a home crowd since the deadly riots in Port Said Stadium last February. Bradley is aiming to lead Egypt to their first World Cup since 1990.

12. DELEON OUT, HENRY RETURNS

Just when Ben Olsen thought his attacking talent was back to full strength, wham, another one bites the dust. Nick DeLeon will miss at least six weeks after a hamstring strain he suffered in the loss to Columbus. But better news emerged from New York, as captain and talisman Thierry Henry was back in training for the Red Bulls. However his status for this weekend’s game with Philadelphia is still unknown. With all this international action, you may have missed the MLS Power Rankings. Don’t worry, we got you covered. Montreal are still sitting pretty with a 100 percent record, but Columbus and Chivas USA are the big climbers.

13. RODGERS COULD RETURN, VALENTIN TO NORWAY?      

Some pieces of transfer rumors swirling around, and RBNY head coach Mike Petke spoke about Luke Rodgers making a dramatic return to RBA. “Luke was here [in 2011], I had a good relationship with him, but we have to look at the whole picture.” While Zarek Valentin could be heading to Norway, where Rodgers once played, as the Montreal defender is rumored to be joining FK Bodø/Glimt on loan.

14. GSPURNING SUSPENDED FOR CCL SEMI

This one seemed to fly underneath everyone’s radar … even the TV cameras. Seattle announced yesterday that Austrian ‘keeper Michael Gspurning will miss their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal first leg against Santos Laguna, after picking up a late caution, which cameras missed due to a sub being made, for time wasting against Tigres UANL in the quarterfinal. Veteran Marcus Hahnemann will step in for the Sounders.

15. MESSI SICK DURING ARGENTINA’S DRAW IN LOFTY LA PAZ

Played at a height of almost 12,000 feet (that’s 2.27 miles into the sky) Argentina’s 1-1 draw with Bolivia in La Paz on Tuesday made Lionel Messi sick, literally. The reigning three-time World Player of the Year vomited on the pitch and Real Madrid’s Ángel di Mariía needed an oxygen tank beside him as the effects of playing in the “two-mile high” city took its toll. Would Costa Rica complain about playing there?

MLSsoccer.com Musts

Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from history being made at the Azteca

RECAP: Mexico 0-0 USA; Klinsmann's side hold on for historic draw against Mexico

Donovan returns as LA Galaxy honored by President Obama at White House


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