US holds on and earns a tie in Mexico City

MEXICO CITY — Mexico and the U.S. battled to a 1-1 draw Sunday in their quadrennial World Cup qualifier before a sellout crowd at Estadio Azteca. And while it was a result that satisfied neither side, nor did it disappoint either team.

For the U.S., the tie kept the team unbeaten in seven games under coach Bruce Arena and kept the Americans unbeaten in Mexico City since 2009. It also gave the U.S. eight points in World Cup qualifying, equaling the total of second-place Costa Rica in the CONCACAF standings. Entering March, the U.S. was last in the table.

They may not be in second long, though, since Costa Rica plays Trinidad and Tobago on Tuesday.

For Mexico, the tie kept them unbeaten through six qualifiers, extending their lead to six points with four games to play. The top three teams in the six-nation tournament advance automatically to next summer’s World Cup in Russia.

The U.S. goal came from Michael Bradley in the sixth minute while Mexico answered midway through the first half on a score from Carlos Vela. Both teams were denied go-ahead scores by the goal frame in the final 20 minutes. The first came when Mexico’s Hector Herrera beat U.S. keeper Brad Guzan with a long free kick in the 71st minute, only to see the ball hit the post and bounce away, leaving the tie in place.

Minutes later Bradley’s shot from distance got by Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa but also hit the frame.

The game was worthy of the rivalry, featuring punishing play, enthusiastic fans and a memorable goal from Bradley that briefly stunned the Mexican fans.

The sequence started with Bradley taking the ball off the foot of Javier Hernandez at the midfield stripe, dribbling between two defenders well into the Mexican end, then drilling a 40-yard shot over the outstretched right arm of the fast-retreating Ochoa and into the back of the net.

The U.S. captain then raced alone to the end line, arms outstretched, before kissing his jersey and gesturing to the U.S. cheering section high above the Mexico goal. It was just the fourth goal scored by an American in Azteca since 1980 and only the second allowed by Mexico in six qualifiers.

But the lead didn’t last long, with Vela equalizing for Mexico on a counterattack in the 23rd minute. Hernandez deserves credit for making that one happen, keeping the ball alive at midfield by dribbling through U.S. defender Kellyn Acosta before sending the ball ahead for Vela, who skipped away from DaMarcus Beasley, then beat Guzan with a left-footed shot from the top of the penalty area.

The goal was Vela’s first against the U.S. since the 2009 Gold Cup final, but it could hardly be blamed on the seldom-used Beasley, who got no help from his two center backs when Vela turned toward the goal.

With the U.S. playing at altitude for the second time in 70 hours, Arena promised several lineup changes, and he delivered, benching seven players who started in Thursday’s win over Trinidad and Tobago in Colorado. That meant giving important minutes to some players who haven’t seen many.

Before Sunday, Beasley had played just four minutes this year. Midfielder Paul Arriola had played only eight and Acosta just 74. Defender Tim Ream was making his second start of the year.

As a result, the chemistry wasn’t always smooth, and there seemed to be an inability to get the ball to midfielder Christian Pulisic, who had scored four times in his last four games.

He was largely invisible against Mexico.

The most surprising lineup change may have been in goal, though, where Arena went with Guzan in place of Tim Howard. There was precedent for that move since Guzan shut out Mexico in the last qualifier the teams played here in 2013. That game ended scoreless.

Mexican coach Juan Carlos Osorio, missing four key players to injuries and another for unspecified personal reasons, made four changes. But one new starter was Hernandez, Mexico’s all-time goal-scoring leader.