USMNT back to being grinders: Have they rediscovered their identity for good?
MEXICO CITY — The US national team on Tuesday night was outshot 19-1 and, at the end of the day, couldn't even get a shot on goal in a 0-0 draw against the Mexican national team at the Estadio Azteca.
But you wouldn't have guessed from any of the US players' postgame comments that they had been so thoroughly outplayed. On the contrary, they relished the way they achieved the point in Mexico, following a very similar performance in the snow on Friday against Costa Rica in Denver.
Judging by the look on their faces it was almost satisfying the way it came about.
"We had to grind out a result," US captain Clint Dempsey said. "It wasn't pretty, but credit to the boys. We stayed compact as a team. We were difficult to break down and even though we conceded a lot of free kicks and a lot of corner kicks, we did a good job of preventing them from getting a goal. So four points in two games and looking at where we are in the table is great."
And so in a week of uncertainty, finger-pointing and pressure following a lackluster loss in February to Honduras and the Sporting News article that uncovered locker room discord, in just four days the US team seems to be back in tune with itself, rediscovering an identity that has served to unify the group once more.
"We tried to just get in their faces and make it difficult for them to pass the ball, and that was going to come from a high tempo and a high work rate with the conditions that we all know Azteca brings," goalkeeper Brad Guzan said in Tuesday's postgame media blitz. "The fact that we were able to do that for so long was phenomenal from the guys."
Said US and LA Galaxy central defender Omar Gonzalez: "I think the team effort was amazing tonight. There was a lot of defensive work to be done and everyone did their part. And we were all on the same page and everyone knew what to do. It was a great feeling."
Hard work, grit, commitment, organization and sacrificial defending. Those qualities that all the players referred to in the Azteca postgame are the exact same qualities that midfielder Michael Bradley talked said had gone missing in recent matches like the 2-1 loss in Honduras.
After the 0-0 draw on Tuesday night, Bradley drove the point home one more time. This latest declaration, however, had a very definitive and absolute feel to it.
"For us to win big games and compete at the highest level, those are things that always have to be there," Bradley said. "Every guy who was part of these two games can be proud of what went into it. So the challenge now is that that part can never come down a notch. Because that's what makes us who we are."
Some will point to the fact that the team earned the draw in Azteca without a single one of manager Jurgen Klinsmann's new German-American recruits. Their inclusion was apparently seen by some US players as upsetting the harmony in the locker room, according to the Sporting News report from last week.
Instead Tuesday's was a team completely made up of players born-and-bred in MLS (all 14 players who took the field were made in MLS). Players who perhaps are more in tune with the American soccer identity because of their history in the sport in the United States.
"We showed just a tremendous attitude and tremendous willingness to sacrifice for one another," said forward/midfielder Herculez Gomez. "When many people said it couldn't be done, that it was over, we came together as a group."
Maybe once and for all.