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U.S. ties Mexico, 2-2, on goal by Altidore

February 07, 2008|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

HOUSTON -- Jozy Altidore, the player many see as the future of American soccer, scored his first international goal Wednesday night as the United States and Mexico fought and scrapped and finally settled for a 2-2 tie in front of a sellout crowd of 70,103 at Reliant Stadium.

It wasn't just any old goal, either. It was a beauty.

It came in the 40th minute and provided the climax to an 11-minute spell in which the U.S. took the lead, gave up the tying goal and then went ahead again courtesy of Altidore.

The 18-year-old New York Red Bulls forward was well positioned to get his head to a pinpoint pass from the right flank by defender Drew Moor, and his powerful header crashed in off the right post well out of the reach of goalkeeper Guillermo "Memo" Ochoa.

Altidore, playing in only his third game for the national team and making his first start, celebrated by kissing his U.S. jersey and sprinting toward the block of red-clad, flag-waving U.S. fans in the crowd, arms spread wide to take in the cheers.

"It's a great moment, I'm sure for anybody, to score their first goal," Altidore said. "You want to share it with people who care the most, and the fans were right there so it was nice."

The goal should not have come as a surprise. Altidore, from Boca Raton, Fla., scored twice against the Galaxy last season when David Beckham drew 67,000 to Giants Stadium in a 5-4 Red Bulls victory. The electric atmosphere at Reliant Stadium hardly fazed him.

"He was oblivious," said Landon Donovan, whose own contribution included assisting on the first U.S. goal, also off a header, this time by defender Oguchi Onyewu in the 30th minute.

Bob Bradley, the U.S. coach, said Altidore had more than justified the decision to start him.

"His goal was well taken," Bradley said. "He found a nice little seam in the defense, it was a very, very good ball by Drew Moor, and he made no mistake. That was certainly an excellent piece of finishing and good movement to get into that spot."

Altidore, who probably will spearhead the attack, along with Freddy Adu, next month when the U.S. tries to qualify for the Beijing Olympics, is far from a finished product, but his potential is obvious, and already teams in Europe have been paying close attention.

"Seeing where the ball's going to come, being in good positions, holding off good defenders, I think that's an area where he has to continue to improve," Bradley said. "As the game wore on, I think he tired, but we also felt that his presence could still give us a chance, so that's why he played the full 90 minutes."

Defender Jonny Magallon scored Mexico's goals, in the 35th and 47th minutes, in a game in which Mexico had more possession and appeared the faster, technically more adroit team but the U.S. replied with some excellent and opportunistic finishing.

The first American goal was the result of a curious bit of teamwork between Donovan and Onyewu.

The latter took a deep throw-in from the left touchline and Ochoa punched the ball away. It fell to Donovan, who controlled it with his knee and then hooked the ball back across the face of the goal without looking up.

Onyewu got to the ball before Mexico defender Israel Castro could react and powered a header in off the right post. It was Onyewu's third goal in his 29th game for the national team.

The tie means that the U.S. kept intact its streak of not losing at home to Mexico since 1999, going 8-0-2.

Before the game, Sunil Gulati, president of U.S. Soccer, said the U.S. would play at Poland on March 26 and at Spain on June 4. The federation also is finalizing details for a June 8 game against "a top-five opponent" somewhere in the northeast. Currently, the top five ranked teams in the world are, in order, Argentina, Brazil, Italy, Spain and Germany.

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grahame.jones@latimes.com

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