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MEXICO CITY -- After 75 years of frustration in Mexico, the U.S. national team finally won a soccer game at its southern neighbor and regional rival.
Dominated for most of the night at one of soccer’s most intimidating venues, the Americans beat the Mexicans 1-0 in an exhibition Wednesday night behind Michael Orozco Fiscal’s goal in the 80th minute and Tim Howard’s late sprawling saves.
“The goal was for the U.S. fans and the whole U.S. We made history,” said Orozco Fiscal, a 26-year-old defender from Orange, Calif., whose parents were born in Mexico.
A trio of second-half substitutes created the goal.
Brek Shea cut inside Severo Meza on the left flank and crossed to Terrence Boyd at the top of the 6-yard box. With his back to the goal, Boyd took a touch with his left foot and with his right made a quick backheel pass to Orozco Fiscal, who with his left foot poked it from 3 yards past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and defender Jorge Torres Nilo for his first international goal.
Orozco Fiscal, who plays in Mexico for San Luis, was a member of the 2008 U.S. Olympic team but hasn’t established himself with the varsity.
He entered in the 77th minute for his fifth international appearance and first since October. Shea, back with the team for the first time since February following a season of turmoil in Major League Soccer, came on a minute later. Boyd, a German-American who made his U.S. debut in February, had entered to start the second half.
“Just happy we won and made history,” Shea said. “It’s something we haven’t done in a long time. Just to be on the roster is cool.”
Howard, in a snazzy gray-on-white uniform, twice preserved the lead. He moved to his right on a Javier Hernandez shot in the 85th, then sprawled to his left when it deflected off Maurice Edu. Four minutes later, he extended left to paw away a 4-yard downward header by Chicharito.
“I think it’s huge. It’s huge for I think all American fans, it’s huge for the team, and it’s historic,” U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. “We were very well aware that we’ve never won here at the Azteca Stadium. This is an amazing experience for the all the players. We told them before the game: This moment is for you, go and grab it. We are all aware that it was a lot, a lot of work.”
The U.S. had been 0-23-1 against El Tri in 75 years of games at Mexico, including 0-19-1 in the thin air at altitude in Mexico City — where they had been outscored 81-14. Azteca, with loud, passionate fans, is a difficult site for road teams.
“You can shrivel up or you can accept it,” Howard said. “We deserved a little bit of luck, and we got it tonight.”
Mexico outshot the U.S. 15-6 and had a 10-0 advantage in corner kicks. But the Americans came away with their second big win this year, following February’s first-ever victory over Italy, in a friendly at Genoa.
“Tim Howard kept us in the game I don’t know how many times,” said Klinsmann, who has been trying to change the defensive mindset the American had at times under Bob Bradley. “It’s a mental aspect of it.”
With the European clubs seasons getting under way, the U.S. used a half-strength roster and a makeshift central defense.
Mexico also was below strength following the Olympics. El Tri dominated possession but failed to connect on several open shots as the Americans paired Edu and Geoff Cameron in the center of their back line in the absence of Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu.
“For me, it’s a game that I grew up watching,” Cameron said of the U.S.-Mexico rivalry. “To be a part of a win for the first time speaks for itself.”
The game marked the start of the Americans’ second year under Klinsmann, who replaced Bradley last summer after Mexico overcame a two-goal deficit to win the CONCACAF Gold Cup final 4-2.
The U.S. figures to have a lineup closer to full strength for a pair of World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica next month, on the road on Sept. 7 and at Columbus, Ohio, four days later. Mexico plays Costa Rica on those same days.
“We know we have to improve in many, many elements,” Klinsmann said. “We have to keep the ball longer. We have to create more chances. We have to do a lot of work still. But I think this gives us a lot of confidence.”
While the U.S. eliminated Mexico in the second round of the 2002 World Cup in South Korea, El Tri has improved in recent years, winning the Under-17 World Cup in 2005 and 2011 and adding the title in the Olympics, which is for Under-23 teams plus three overage players. Mexico is up to 18th in the world rankings, while the U.S. is down to 36th.
The game came at an awkward time for players, many focused on their clubs’ season openers this weekend.
“It was very difficult in high altitude, with many of them flying in from Europe two days ago,” Klinsmann said. “But we had a plan, and we tried to execute that plan and getting that win here — I mean it’s quite enjoyable.”
NOTES: The only previous U.S. non-loss against Mexico in Mexico was a 0-0 tie in a 1997 World Cup qualifier. At the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup, the U.S. beat New Zealand and Germany in Guadalajara before losing to Mexico 1-0 in overtime at Azteca. ... Landon Donovan, searching for his 50th international goal, left at the start of the second half because of a tight hamstring and was replaced by DaMarcus Beasley, who made his 97th international appearance.