You have probably heard about this by now: the United States soccer team entered Azteca, the Mexican fortress de futbol, and walked out with an astonishing 1-0 win Wednesday night. It was the first win in 25 attempts for the Stars and Stripes.
Previous U.S. highlights from games in Mexico City (record: 0-23-1) include a 0-0 draw engineered by Marcelo Balboa and magic (mostly the latter), Landon Donovan getting vomit thrown on him while taking a corner kick, and, well, that about sums it up. (Some might include Charlie Davies' goal but the US ended up losing that game and thinking about the forward's accident two months later still makes me sad.)
Jurgen Klinsmann brought an ad hoc group with him to Mexico City. Regular starters Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, Steve Cherundolo, and Jozy Altidore missed the match for various reasons that basically boil down to not wanting to fly halfway across the world in the middle of their club preseason. Lost in those absences, however, was the fact that the roster wasn't that bad. Tim Howard, Landon Donovan, Jermaine Jones, and Fabian Johnson started. The centerback duo of Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron was untested but adequate on paper, excellent in reality. (If you want a single takeaway from the game, it's Cameron's stellar performance. Pencil him into the starting lineup.) Hindsight is 20-20, but it's not like Klinsmann showed up with an AYSO team. (Takeaway No. 2: The US player pool is getting deeper, quickly.)
All that said, Mexico is clearly the better team right now. The Americans had no business being in this game, except they were. They conceded possession and allowed shots but not goals, a blueprint copyrighted by former American coach Bob Bradley. Azteca, known for its overflow crowds of 100,000-plus, looked half-full on television. The Americans hung around, hung tough, hung on. Then Michael Orozco Fiscal, a player who, as Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl pointed out, was on the roster mostly because of his club's proximity to Mexico City, scored the game's only goal. The defender, whose previous efforts in the Red, White, and Blue could only generously be called acceptable, just kind of stood near the Mexican goal after a US thrown-in and found the ball at his feet after Brek Shea nutmegged a defender and Terrence Boyd decided a backheel would be a good idea. "Shea took him one-v-one," Orozco Fiscal said after the game, "and I was like, 'I'm gonna stay here and see what happens.'" The Americans hung on for 10 nerve-wracking minutes, thanks in large part to a totally impermeable Tim Howard, then adjourned to the locker room, posed for Instagram photos, and got the heck out of Dodge.
I've gone back and forth all morning about what the wins means, finally settling on nothing, everything, and a little of both. The game was a one-off friendly in the middle of August, and counts for exactly nada. It's not even the most significant game in Mexican soccer this week, given that it was just four days ago that the country won the Olympic gold medal. For the U.S., the whole "now we've won in Azteca" bit is a nice talking point for the players, but I suspect it's mostly bluster and am certain it won't make Azteca any less terrifying the next time the team finds itself there. While it's nice the U.S. can say they finally won there, it doesn't change much going forward. But.
But the U.S. has now won at Azteca, and the reason you play sports is to win. That basic truth sometimes gets lost in the narratives we weave about the games we play. On Wednesday night, win the U.S .did in historic fashion. In the end, that's what matters. USA 1-Mexico 0 (8.15.2012) stays forevermore.