Whenever the United States travels to Mexico’s impenetrable fortress of Azteca, turmoil surely follows. The Americans, both on the pitch and off, head to their southern neighbors’ largest and most terrifying stadium not dissimilarly to warriors heading into some ancient conflict: heads down, in numbers, and with survival the only goal.
On Sunday night, thanks to a nervy defense and Michael Bradley briefly ascending to a higher plane of existence, the US was able to escape Azteca with a point in a back-and-forth 1-1 draw that puts them in prime position to qualify to the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
For their part, Mexico largely played the role of the agreeable host; despite an unnecessary-but-not-surprising booing of the Star Spangled Banner–and the “puto” chant that has been so controversial that it actually has lost all meaning aside from resistance to FIFA’s oversight–the Mexican fans largely were kept away from the Americans, both by virtue and by barbed wire fences (yes, seriously).
Carlos Vela’s 23rd minute equalizer probably felt like a small earthquake inside the stadium, but one that just rattles your house, not burns it down.
Of course, the lingering tension wasn’t helped by the current geopolitical climate; anti-Trump sentiments went far and wide both before and during the game. Piñatas of the current President of the United States were beaten to a pulp by El Tri supporters, and reports had some American fans joining in (as proven in Columbus during the last round of qualifying, nothing brings certain parts of both countries together quite like a good Trump bashing).
That being said, one “brave” fan apparently decided to sneak in a giant Trump doll into a section of Mexican fans, because arrogance is part of the American Dream. Thankfully, it doesn’t look like his patriotism aroused any possibly-deserved tough talk or, perhaps, something more than that.
In all, this was, by all reports, the calmest US-Mexico match at Azteca in years. Part of that might have to do with the relative unimportance of the game at hand; while, sure, both teams could have benefited greatly from a win, a draw served both sides well, especially a Mexico team that on its best day is clearly the most talented in CONCACAF.
The other part might be the presence of a small militia in the form of Mexican police, who escorted American fans from the hotels into the stadium, where the US supporters watched from mostly behind the aforementioned barbed wire fences.
It might be small praise for what is supposed to be an innocent game, but the fact that the US grabbing a point at the Azteca didn’t start an international incident is a victory every way you look at it. Sentimentally, one can chalk it up to the healing power of the world’s most popular sport; realistically, one can commend Mexico for being prepared for the worst, and to both sets of fans for keeping the violence nonphysical.
Either way, both squads will now go their separate ways…at least until the Gold Cup comes around for another round.