MEXICO CITY – It all seemed too good to be true.
Michael Bradley picked off the pass at midfield. We watched as he sprinted forward. As the ball rolled in front of him, he lifted his head. Our eyes moved from his bald skull toward the Mexican goal. The goalkeeper is off his line. Holy cow, the goalie is off his line. But Bradley won’t actually go for it. Holy cow, he’s going to go for it.
Bradley pulled back his leg and we looked at the Mexican goalie, Guillermo Ochoa, again. Ochoa started to backpedal. The race began. The ball sailed through the air in slow motion. The trajectory seemed perfect. Then it seemed it might come up a little short. Ball vs. Ochoa. Then Ochoa jumped and the ball continued over him.
Sixth minute. United States 1, Mexico 0.
It’s a goal that will live in American soccer lore forever.
Everyone inside Estadio Azteca seemed shocked, but Bradley said it was all part of the calculation.
“Surprised? No,” the American captain said after the 1-1 draw when asked about seeing Ochoa off his line. “We've played against him a number of times. You know that obviously he's a very good goalkeeper. He's good with his feet. He gives them a lot in terms of their ability to play outside of his area.
“As I was able to intercept the pass from Chicharito, I took the first touch and saw that he was a good ways out. And here, you know that if you catch a ball right, with the thin air the ball's going to really fly. I wanted to make sure I caught it right. And I did.”
Just that easy.
The goal meant more than just the lead on the scoreboard, too. It set the tone for the USMNT.
“It was huge,” midfielder Paul Arriola said. “It really helped us. It was an amazing goal. It took away the energy from the stadium for a while. It gave us energy.”
In a big game at an imposing venue like Azteca, it’s generally thought that the away team need to hold their ground and get their bearings in the opening 15 minutes. But Bradley’s goal put the US on the front foot. They continued to harass Mexico in midfield and create chances on the counter. Bradley’s bravery in the attempt seemed to give everyone a boost.
Perhaps more impressive than the shot itself, however, was the interception. Center back Hector Moreno played a pass into the center circle to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez. Hernandez attempted to lay the ball back diagonally to the right, and Bradley swooped in and picked off his pass.
Mexico are a renowned possession team. They can make the world’s best chase around the field. It’s rare – and sometimes even shocking – to see them give a simple pass away. But Bradley read the play perfectly.
“We watched a lot of video with some of their movements,” the Toronto FC star told reporters. “We knew that at certain moments, [Mexico forward] Chicharito was looking to come to the ball. I felt like I was able to read what he wanted to do and step in. That led to a good goal for us.”
That’s putting it mildly.