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Mexico's 4-2 win cheers crowd

It comes from behind to beat Ecuador at sold-out, fast-paced friendly in Oakland. U.S. plays to 0-0 tie with Guatemala in Texas.

March 29, 2007|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

OAKLAND — The argument could be made -- and quite forcibly too -- that the most popular soccer team in the U.S. these days is Mexico.

That claim was reinforced Wednesday night at the McAfee Coliseum, where a sellout crowd of 47,416 showed up to see Coach Hugo Sanchez's side come from behind to defeat Ecuador, 4-2, in a fast-paced and fascinating international friendly.

All the tickets were snapped up two weeks before the opening kickoff, and organizers said they could easily have sold twice as many.

It was the third consecutive sellout for Mexico on American soil this year, following the 62,462 that saw the Tricolores lose to the U.S. in Phoenix and the 63,328 that watched them defeat Venezuela in San Diego.

Living up to their fans' expectations, it took the Mexicans a scant 32 seconds to set the Coliseum alight, when Francisco "Paco" Palencia scored the opening goal.

It was a sign of things to come.

Taking a header from teammate Israel Lopez, the former Chivas USA star -- who returned to Mexico to play for UNAM Pumas this winter specifically to regain his place on the national team -- redirected the ball into the lower left corner of the net, well beyond the goalkeeper's reach.

Palencia was left off Mexico's World Cup roster last year by former coach Ricardo Lavolpe but believed that, with Sanchez in charge, he could win his spot back if he left MLS and returned to the Mexican league. The tactic worked.

At about the 20-minute mark, the South Americans came close to tying it up on a bending shot by forward Felipe Caicedo that seemed destined for the upper left corner of the net before Mexico goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa got an outstretched hand to it and deflected the ball wide.

Ecuador became more offense-minded as the half wore on and the Mexican defense, despite the presence of World Cup veteran Rafael Marquez, appeared vulnerable at times.

Just before the half ended, Ecuador striker Carlos Tenorio sprinted through on the right flank, got past defenders Ricardo Osorio and the stumbling Marquez, and slotted the ball into the far side of the net as Ochoa dived in vain to block the shot.

Ecuador kept up its pressure in the second 45 minutes and took the lead when Edison Mendez chipped the ball into the penalty area and Felix Bora's twisting header struck the foot of the left post.

The ball rebounded to Giovanni Espinoza, who fired it past the fallen Ochoa, then tucked the ball inside his jersey and sprinted away in delight. It was a defender's reaction to scoring a rare goal.

Spurred on by its fans, however, Mexico replied with a vengeance. Marquez tied the game at 2-2 with a blazing free kick. Omar Bravo put Mexico back in front when he side-footed a shot in from close range off a cross from Chivas de Guadalajara teammate Adolfo Bautista, and Bautista himself applied the final finish with a powerful downward header off a Bravo cross.

It took Mexico only 17 minutes to net the three goals.

Also on Wednesday night, the U.S. extended its unbeaten streak under interim Coach Bob Bradley to four games when it played to a 0-0 tie with Guatemala in front of 10,932 at Pizza Hut Park in the Dallas suburb of Frisco, Texas.

Landon Donovan scored three times when the Americans overcame Ecuador on Sunday in Tampa, Fla., but in Frisco the flow of goals dried up.

Eddie Johnson, Clint Dempsey, Justin Mapp and Jonathan Spector each had good scoring chances for the U.S. but squandered them.


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