Well, how about that? Goalkeeper Tim Howard may serve as a modern-day soccer equivalent of the Colossus of Rhodes for the United States Men's National Team, but teammate Michael Orozco Fiscal did a pretty fair impression of Montezuma on Wednesday night at the Estadio Azteca.
Orozco Fiscal, the Mexican-American defender who spent the 2010 season on loan with the Philadelphia Union, produced a warrior-like performance as a substitute. His one-time, left-footed poke home of a Terrence Boyd backheel in the 80th minute gave the U.S. a 1-0 win over host Mexico.
But Orozco Fiscal's tally did more than simply win a misnamed friendly between two bitter soccer rivals. It obliterated the yoke of a prior 0-23-1 record for the U.S. on Mexican soil. Will a win in a summer exhibition translate to one in a meaningful FIFA 2014 World Cup qualifier? We'll just have to wait and see.
The fact that Orozco Fiscal became the U.S. player to break the Mexican hex is just filled with irony. When U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann named a Hispanic-laden first-ever roster for the friendly vs. Mexico in Philadelphia last summer, I wrote: "If Klinsmann can ... spur waves and waves of Hispanic boys to make themselves known to U.S. National Team selectors, the sky really can be the limit."
Orozco Fiscal is a living, breathing representative of that quest to take soccer in America from being a suburban-only sport (when it comes to the "official" youth game) to one that pitches a large, all-inclusive tent. I know how Orozco Fiscal's family must be feeling after Wednesday night. They're bursting with pride for their son, but there's a slight hint of ennui about the whole thing, too.
And why is that? Well, I know many Mexican families intimately. Through my nearly decade of youth coaching in southern New Jersey, I've been guests at their holiday tables, Quinceaneras and World Cup parties. They love their adopted country (the U.S.), but it's so very hard for them to turn their backs on El Tri (the Mexican team) ... especially when those anthems are played before a match!
While the fathers want their sons to go to college and make a good life for themselves here, they still dream of their boys donning that green jersey from back home. That bond will take generations to break, but players like Orozco Fiscal, Joe Corona, Herculez Gomez, Edgar Castillo and Jose Torres -- all Mexican-Americans who suited up for the U.S. on Wednesday -- are at the forefront of doing so.
And before we get to the stellar play of Howard, a quick mention for Brek Shea and Geoff Cameron of the U.S. team. Shea has hit a recent rough patch -- both playing- and discipline-wise -- for FC Dallas of Major League Soccer, but he remains the young heir to the aging duo of Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey on the creativity front. His fearless run-and-dribble down the left side set up Orozco Fiscal's goal on Wednesday.
And what a coming-out party on an international stage for Cameron. The new signing for English Premier League side Stoke marshalled a stiff U.S. backline during a first half that saw Mexico keep possession and attack at will. Cameron basically stifled the danger posed by Mexican striker Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, who just happens to play for Manchester United. This guy is a U.S. star in the making.
But it was Howard who stole the show Wednesday ... literally, with the way he bedeviled the Mexican attack. I'm often asked by casual soccer fans at work where he ranks among the world's best. My answer is that he's definitely in the top 6 or 7 of keepers right now. Italy's Gianluigi Buffon and Spain's Iker Casillas still carry the banner, but Howard can be right there.
Man United signed him as a youngster for good reason, and the guy is athletic, smart and quick. Howard's our best hope for a quarterfinal appearance in at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, and the goalkeeping clinic he produced Wednesday night promises nothing but good signs on that front. A historic win and hope for the future ... how does it get any better than that?
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