Michael Bradley has scored key WCQ goals vs. the Mexicans at home and on the road. (Andy Mead/YCJ Photo)
By Michael Lewis
It wasn’t until this century that the United States started to enjoy any kind of consistent success against the Mexican national team — in World Cup qualifiers and in international matches in general.
With that in mind, here is a list of some of the leading American heroes who made a name for themselves in qualifying matches against our neighbor and soccer archrival to the south (the World Cup year is in parantheses):
1. Buff Donelli (1934 World Cup)
It will be difficult to top Donelli’s feat of scoring four – that’s correct – four goals in a match. The game was played in Rome, just before the start of the World Cup because the U.S. was a late entry. Mexico agreed to a match and the Americans, prevailed, 4-2. Donelli gave the U.S. the lead in the 15th minute, 1-0, and again in the 30th minute, 2-1, before adding goals in the 73rd and 87th minutes at Stadio PNF on 24, 1934. Three days later Italy hammered the U.S. at the very same stadium, 7-1, with Donelli finding the back of the net again. The qualifier turned out to be the one and only U.S. win over the Mexicans for 46 years – until it recorded a 2-1 win in a rather meaningless qualifier in 1980.
2. Brad Friedel (1998, 2002)
Friedel forged a reputation as a Mexican nemesis in two key matches – the historic scoreless draw in Mexico City (the Americans’ lone point at Azteca Stadium) on Nov. 2, 1997, playing in place of the injured Kasey Keller, and in the 2-0 victory in 29-degree temperatures in Columbus, Ohio on Feb. 28, 2001. Friedel made all the stops he was supposed to in the former and did a solid effort with some key stops four years later. The Columbus triumph started a tradition in which the U.S. has bested the Mexicans by the same 2-0 score in three consecutive qualifiers in Columbus.
3. Michael Bradley (2010, 2018)
His main responsibility as a defensive midfielder is about stifling the opposition’s attack. The son of coach Bob Bradley did it not one, but two better in Columbus on Feb. 11, 2009 striking twice – in the 43rd minute and two minutes into stoppage time to confound the Mexicans once again. zjr
4. Josh Wolff (2002)
Called off the bench after forward Brian McBride suffered a head injury due to a clash of heads with a defender (swollen right eye), Wolff scored the first U.S. goal and set up the second one in the 2-0 win in Columbus on Feb. 28, 2001. Two minutes into the second half, former Red Bull Clint Mathis, who had replaced the injured Claudio Reyna, played a long ball to Wolff over the defense. Wolff beat goalkeeper Jorge Campos to the ball and tried to get it past Campos’ right. The keeper blocked it and the ball came to a lone Wolff, who had little problems slotting it into an empty net.
5. Earnie Stewart (2002)
And speaking of the second goal, Stewart connected for that score in that now legendary Columbus clash. With the U.S. clinging to a 1-0 lead in the 87th minute, Wolff fed Stewart, who beat Campos from 12 yards to seal the deal.
6. Landon Donovan (2014)
He finished with a goal and an assist (see Eddie Johnson below for the details) in a dos a cero result in Columbus on Sept. 10, 2013. In the 78th minute, Clint Dempsey set up Donovan at the far post and the veteran midfielder slotted it home for a two-goal advantage.
7. Eddie Johnson (2014)
In the 49th minute, Donovan sent a corner kick in the middle of the penalty area and Johnson out-jumped Diego Reyes and headed the ball past goalkeeper Jose Corona as the stadium erupted in loud cheers on Sept. 10, 2013.
8. Tim Howard (2014)
Howard made two vital saves in the final minutes of the opening half of another dos a cero result in 2013. He caught Giovani dos Santos’ close-range bullet in the 44th minute and denied defender Diego Reyes with a save that set up a corner kick in stoppage time.
9. Brad Guzan (2014)
Guzan accomplished what only one other U.S. goalkeeper had done before, walking out of the Azteca with a clean sheet in a scoreless draw on March 26, 2013. The Mexicans enjoyed a 17-1 shot advantage attempted 15 corner kicks against an American defense that bent, but never broke.
10. Christian Pulisic (2022)
Pulisic, who just saw some minimal playing time with Chelsea until the prior week due to an ankle injury he suffered during the September qualifying window, replaced Brenden Aaronson in the 69th minute. He had had but 21 minutes of action in the English Premier League and four training sessions. Five minutes later, Pulisic headed home Tim Weah’s cross with his first touch of the match in a 2-0 win in Cincinnati on Nov. 12, 2021.
11. Weston McKennie
McKennie gave the USA some breathing room against the Mexicans in the 85th minute on Nov. 12, converting a give-and-go with Jesus Ferreira from close range for his first WCQ goal.
12. Willy Roy (1974)
Roy was the first USMNT player to score at the Azteca. With the USA down 3-0, the future National Soccer Hall of Famer found the net in the 78th minute, heading in Gene Geimer’s cross in a 3-1 loss on Sept. 3, 1972. “I jumped a little higher than most Mexican defenders did,” Roy told USSoccer.com. “So, I had a clear head ball. That was maybe one of my stronger points when I played. I scored quite a few head ball goals.” Only four other USA players have scored in Azteca WCQers – Rick Davis (1980), Eddie Lewis (2005), Charlie Davies (2009) and Bradley (2017). Michael Orozco tallied during a 2012 friendly.
13. Steve Moyers (1982)
Speaking of that meaningless qualifier, we can’t forget former Cosmos forward Steve Moyers, who scored twice in the 2-1 win in Fort Lauderdale Nov. 23, 1980. While the U.S. had been eliminated by then, it was the hosts’ qualifying victory over their archrivals in two generations. For the record, Moyers lifted the Americans into the lead in the 32nd minute. But former Real Madrid great Hugo Sanchez equalized before Moyers struck again in the 65th minute.
14. Al Zerhusen (1962)
During an era in which the Mexicans regularly beat up the U.S., Zerhusen was a rare hero as he struck for the equalizer in a 3-3 draw at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles on Nov. 6, 1960. Zerhusen outraced Mexican goalkeeper Antonio Carbajal to a loose ball and knocked it home in the 85th minute. The goal couldn’t stave off elimination, but it was a rare positive moment for U.S. soccer.
15. Ed Murphy (1958)
And speaking of getting beat up, the Americans were mauled by the Mexicans, 7-2, at Long Beach Memorial Stadium in Long Beach, Calif. on April 28, 1957. Murphy actually gave the U.S. the lead off a Zerhusen pass in the eighth minute before the roof cave in on the hosts. Murphy added a second goal before halftime.
16. Arnie Mausser (1978)
The Brooklyn, N.Y. native managed to accomplish something against Mexico no other American did prior — a shutout. Mausser’s most memorable play that game was a second-half save by Mausser, who dived to knock away a free kick by Javier Cardenas had bent around the wall. Ultimately, it didn’t help the U.S., which was eliminated. Mexico did not reach the 1978 World Cup either. One interesting foot note: the match drew 33,171 spectators, the largest U.S. home crowd at the time.