In the end, the U.S. men's team simply ran out of breath. United States players, who traveled here hoping to do what no American team had...
MEXICO CITY — In the end, the U.S. men’s team simply ran out of breath.
United States players, who traveled here hoping to do what no American team had done before by defeating Mexico in Mexico, came up short yesterday and lost 2-1 in a World Cup 2006 qualifying match that seldom rose to great heights.
The match was played at Azteca Stadium, where competing at the 7,200-foot altitude makes breathing difficult for even the fittest of athletes.
“We were done at the 30-minute mark,” said U.S. coach Bruce Arena, who watched as his defense fell apart in a four-minute spell in the first half and allowed Mexico to get goals from Jared Borgetti in the 30th minute and Antonio Naelson in the 33rd.
U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller of Lacey allowed the scores and made four saves. Mexico had a 12-5 advantage in shots.
“We were all hurting a bit out there,” said Eddie Lewis, who gave the United States some hope with a goal in the 59th minute.
“Any way you look at it, altitude is a big factor,” Arena said afterward. “You’re just never going to be fully acclimatized unless you live here and play here. If you look at their roster, probably 99 percent of their players play at altitude, whether in Mexico City, Toluca or Guadalajara, so they are totally adjusted.”
But it wasn’t only the thin air that did in the Americans. Another problem was the game plan devised by Mexico coach Ricardo Lavolpe.
Lavolpe started three forwards — Borgetti, Francisco Fonseca and Cuauhtemoc Blanco — and supported them with players running out of midfield and with defenders overlapping. Mexico is 22-0-1 at home against the U.S. team.
The United States was under pressure from the opening whistle, and not just from the crowd of about 110,000.
“It was a simple numbers game,” said U.S. defensive midfielder Pablo Mastroeni. “They had more numbers in the attack than we had actually defending.”
The U.S. midfield of Lewis, Mastroeni, Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna and DaMarcus Beasley all too often found itself pushed back to help out the defense.
“They’re smart, they know how to play here,” Donovan said. “We couldn’t figure it out in the first half. While we had a couple of flashes of playing well, it just wasn’t good enough.
“We broke down on two plays and they scored two goals.”
Mexico (2-0) leads the final round of qualifying in the North and Central American and Caribbean region with six points, two ahead of Guatemala (1-0-1) and three in front of the United States and Costa Rica (both 1-1). Teams play 10 matches in the final round. The top three nations qualify for the World Cup, and the fourth-place team goes to a playoff.
The U.S. team plays Guatemala on Wednesday in Birmingham, Ala.
• In other World Cup qualifiers, Brazil beat visiting Peru 1-0 on a goal by Kaka and action in Mali was stopped when fans rioted after a go-ahead goal by Togo in the 90th minute.
Fans in Bamako, Mali, blocked a main road with flaming tires, and smashed car windows after invading the field. Police fired tear gas as protesters descended on the city’s main street and screamed about Mali’s top players. “Give us Frederic Kanoute and Mamadou Bakayoko!” they demanded. “We’re going to kill them!”