After Leading Twice, U.S. Settles for Tie

U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard makes a diving save in the first half in Houston.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard makes a diving save in the first half in Houston. (By Bob Levey -- Getty Images)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 7, 2008

HOUSTON, Feb. 6 -- Nothing was at stake except national pride -- there were no trophies or tickets to the next World Cup awaiting the winner -- but when the United States and Mexico collide on a soccer field, the ramifications are always magnified.

The bitter rivals met again Wednesday night before a sellout crowd of 70,103 at Reliant Stadium, and by the end of the 2-2 tie, both sides seemed relatively content with the outcome.

The United States seized the lead twice, on first-half goals by Olney's Oguchi Onyewu and 18-year-old Jozy Altidore, but defender Jonny Magall¿n answered each time.

"It was the kind of game that clearly helps us to continue to try to grow as a team," said U.S. Coach Bob Bradley, whose squad will open 2010 World Cup qualifying play in June.

Despite being outplayed much of the evening before the pro-Mexico crowd, the Americans maintained an unbeaten home record against the Mexicans this decade (8-0-2). The teams are not expected to meet again until two matches next year in the final round of Cup qualifying.

Bradley was most pleased with Altidore, a New York Red Bulls forward making just his third national team appearance and first start after a sterling performance at the Under-20 World Cup last summer. He played all 90 minutes, scored the team's second goal on a snap header, and, when former D.C. United midfielder Freddy Adu entered in the 63rd minute, the Americans had a pair of 18-year-olds on the front line.

"He showed that he deserves to be out on the field," Bradley said of Altidore, "but there are areas now where hopefully he can improve from being in this kind of game."

Altidore seemed immune to the feverish atmosphere and afterward showed his wide-eyed youthfulness by telling legendary Mexican defender Rafael Marquez that he watches him on TV all the time playing for Spanish power FC Barcelona.

"I was a bit surprised I got to start and I had a lot of fun," Altidore said. The setting affected him "in a good way. . . . If you can't get up for a game like this, then something is truly wrong."

Bradley, though, expressed concern about his team's inability to find the forwards quicker. He also thought his attackers, including Altidore, did not hold the ball adequately and the support in midfield was not there.

Nonetheless, the Americans went ahead in the 30th minute. Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa punched Onyewu's throw-in to the far side, where Landon Donovan controlled the ball and, with his back to his teammates, lifted it back across the box. Onyewu directed an angled eight-yard header off the inside of the far post for his third international goal.

Mexico's pressure paid off six minutes later, though, when Pavel P¿rdo drove a 25-yard free kick deep into the box. Magall¿n slipped free of Drew Moor, starting in place of injured Steve Cherundolo, and slammed a one-timer into the upper left corner from three yards.

But the Americans countered in the 40th minute, Moor atoning for the previous goal with a well-delivered cross from the right side that Altidore headed into the right side from nine yards. The Americans thought they scored again, but Clint Dempsey's 20-yard strike was nullified by an offside call.

It took Mexico just two minutes after the break to pull into another tie, and again Magall¿n feasted on Moor's marking at the far post on a set piece. This time the goal came off a corner kick, with Carlos Salcido flicking the ball through the six-yard box.

Soccer Notes: RFK Stadium is among seven candidates to stage U.S. World Cup semifinal-round qualifiers this fall, U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati said. Others in contention for the three home matches are mid-size stadiums in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Denver, as well as Seattle and Columbus, Ohio. The Americans must first defeat Barbados or Dominica in a two-game, first-round series in June. . . . The USSF has finalized friendlies at Poland on March 26 and at Spain on June 4. Gulati said the U.S. team also might play a "top-five opponent," believed to be Brazil or Argentina, in a northeast U.S. city on June 8 and play a "top 20 opponent" in Europe in late May or early June.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company