The United States defied expectations — and a rowdy crowd elated by Mexico's Olympic gold — to break a 75-year winless streak against its neighboring rival with an 80th minute goal and a series of saves that delivered a 1-0 victory.
Michael Orozco Fiscal's goal and Tim Howard's late sprawling saves left tens of thousands of fans at intimidating Azteca Stadium in stunned silence. The glum crowds filing out after the game Wednesday night were stark counterpoint to a first half marked by raucous booing, choruses of booing, tossed drinks and laser pointers, all aimed at the Americans or their few fans.
The stadium is one of soccer's toughest for road teams, but the 56,000 fans at the half-full Azteca seemed driven beyond their usual aggressiveness by Mexico's Olympic win on Saturday — some of the winners entered the stadium at halftime to an ear-splitting welcome and rounds of fireworks.
Then, overcoming the side that dominated them for most of the night, the Americans went ahead on a move created by a trio of second-half substitutes.
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.
"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., who plays in Mexico for San Luis.
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 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 preserved the lead, changing directions to stop a deflected shot by Javier Hernandez in the 85th, then pawing away a 4-yard downward header by Chicharito in the 89th.
"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."
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.
"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.
With the European clubs getting their seasons under way, the U.S. used a half-strength roster and a makeshift central defense.
Mexico also was below strength following the Olympics — Carlos Salcido, its regular left back, started in the win over Brazil in the gold-medal game. El Tri dominated possession but failed to connect on several open shots as the Americans paired Maurice 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."
Landon Donovan, searching for his 50th international goal, left at the start of the second half because of a tight hamstring and DaMarcus Beasley came in for his 97th international appearance. Boyd came in at the same time to replace an ineffective Jose Torres.
Cameron got his head on a cross from Elias Hernandez in the 56th minute, preventing Hernandez from an open shot in front. A minute later, Jesus Zavala put an open header over the crossbar.
With Ochoa off his line, Kyle Beckerman put a long, sliding shot just over the crossbar in the 60th.
Andres Guardado hooked a free kick just wide to Howard's right post in the 65th after Cameron fouled Hernandez just outside the penalty area. Hernandez then sent an open header wide in the 76th off a cross from Hernandez.
"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.