Miracle In Mexico: A Great Moment For U.S. Soccer

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO - AUGUST 15: Michael Orozco of the United States celebrates after scoring with teammates during a FIFA friendly match between Mexico and US at Azteca Stadium on August 15, 2012 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Miguel Tovar/Getty Images)

It may not be of great importance going forward, but the United States' win over Mexico at Estadio Azteca stands up with other great moments in U.S. soccer history.

In 1989, Paul Caligiuri hit a 30-yard blinder to beat Trinidad and Tobago and send the United States to the World Cup for the first time since 1950.

Five years later, the Americans topped Colombia in front of more than 90,000 fans on home soil to help book their spot in the knockout stages of the World Cup for the first time in modern history.

In 2002, the U.S. upended Mexico in the knockout stages of the World Cup, serving notice that they were the best team in CONCACAF and ready to compete on the world stage at the world's biggest tournament.

Two years ago, the U.S. won their World Cup group for the first time since 1930 when Landon Donovan scored in stoppage time to beat Algeria when they were just minutes away from crashing out of the tournament.

In 2012, the Yanks went to the famed Estadio Azteca. They had never won in 24 matches against Mexico on Mexican soil, but came away with an amazingly improbable win against their biggest rivals.

The first four moments all have World Cup implications. Being the tournament that stands above all others in world soccer, those are of the upmost importance, but this last one, despite being a friendly, stands right there with them. It does not have quite the same significance, but that doesn't change its status as a moment in U.S. soccer history.

When the final whistle blew at the Azteca on Wednesday night, the elation on the field and at soccer bars around the U.S. was not about soccer. It wasn't a win that means the Americans will beat El Tri in the Azteca next year during World Cup qualifying and the U.S. is not greater favorite to win the World Cup in two years than their southern rivals. Nobody is pretending it does.

Nobody associated with U.S. soccer will ever forget what happened on the Azteca pitch on Wednesday. People celebrated like a win that carried as much weight as any other. For them, the Azteca was a house of horrors where nobody won. It was a place that their hated rivals could always hold over their heads as a mountain that they have not and could never climb.

The Azteca had the history of two World Cup finals, the immensity of being the largest soccer-specific stadium in the world, the heat, altitude and smog of Mexico City and the mystique of being the fortress where El Tri had lost just one World Cup qualifier to anyone. Ever. It took the USMNT ninety minutes and a single goal to hole -- perhaps fatally -- that aura of invincibility.

The United States' win over Mexico at the Azteca was not just some victory, it was a moment. It was everything that makes sports so beloved. The stats and the analysis are undeniably important and fun, but nobody looks back and remembers the possession or the tactics.

Everyone in sport, from the players to the fans, remember moments. They remember where they were, who they turned and hugged and what nonsense they screamed in euphoric delirium.

For 79 minutes on Wednesday, the U.S. were borderline unwatchable. They couldn't string together any passes, called upon Geoff Cameron to bail them out repeatedly and looked nothing like the attacking team with style that Jurgen Klinsmann promised he would turn the Yanks into a year ago.

But then the 80th minute happened. Brek Shea raced in and left the Mexican defense in his dust. He crossed to the middle where Terrence Boyd gathered and backheeled for Michael Orozco to nudge over the line. The prior 79 minutes didn't matter anymore and for the rest of history, nobody will care one bit about what preceded that goal.

For the remainder of the match, Tim Howard put on his Superman cape and came to the Americans' rescue. He made two saves of sure goals and single-handedly preserved the U.S. win with world class goalkeeping.

Three players, none of whom have played a single competitive senior team match of note, combined for a goal that will put them in U.S. soccer lore forever. A goalkeeper who has led the Americans through Gold Cups, World Cup qualifying and a World Cup had 10 minutes that can stand up against any 10 in his entire career, and his performance will be remembered just as fondly.

When the final whistle blew, players came streaming off the U.S. bench. Players hugged on the field, looking up at the Azteca as just a stadium, not some Mexican stronghold. Fans all over the U.S. rejoiced, having watched their team, representing their country, do what two hours earlier felt just one step short of impossible.

Those final 10 minutes at the Azteca made for a moment that is going down in U.S. soccer history right alongside those qualifiers and World Cup matches. That doesn't make it as important as the others, but sports are about moments.

Sports are about what you remember 20 years down the road. They are about 10 new people claiming to have been there every day, because everyone desperately wants to be as close to that memory as humanly possible. They are about seeing something you dreamt of, or that you never thought would happen finally happening.

The United States' win at the Azteca on Wednesday was all of that. It wasn't just some win, it was a moment, and it was one of the best in U.S. soccer history.

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