For 10 or 15 minutes on Sunday, you could feel it. Michael Bradley scored one of the most audacious golazos you'll ever see from an American soccer player, and the United States men's national team looked like it could do the unthinkable and defeat Mexico at the Estadio Azteca.
But a response by Mexico's Carlos Vela leveled the score later in the first half, and the hopes of an amazing upset evaporated. The U.S. parked the bus and saw out a 1-1 draw with El Tri in Mexico City.
The result is disappointing in the context of the 90 minutes played on Sunday, since the Yanks had their chances and looked as impressive as they've ever looked against Mexico at Azteca. But in the context of history, it's a brilliant result. The draw is the just the third point the USMNT has ever earned at the Estadio Azteca in World Cup qualifying.
It's also a fantastic result in the context of the USMNT's World Cup qualifying campaign. The U.S. now has eight points in the hexagonal table, level on points with second-place Costa Rica, who have a game in hand and will play on Tuesday. It's a significant boost for the USMNT on its quest to qualify for Russia 2018.
Before we go any further, we have to talk about that goal from Bradley. There have been a lot of moments that have made me run around and scream like a banshee, but for all its glory, I stood in stunned silence after Bradley's golazo. It was a breathtaking moment to remember for American soccer.
Most folks have described this goal as a chip, but that does it a disservice. With a chip, the goal is to get the shot above an out-of-position keeper and hope it falls behind him and into the net. Bradley's golazo looked so much more deliberate. Yeah, Guillermo Ochoa was out of position, but the pacing and positioning of Bradley's shot was perfect. He was aiming for that top corner and put it right on the money.
The next 15 minutes or so seem like a beautiful dream. Standing a goal to the good, the U.S. played with purpose and poise. The Americans even appeared primed to double the lead on a few occasions.
But that wasn't meant to be, and Mexico was too good not to get something from the match. Carlos Vela cut inside and scored a fine goal in the 23rd minute. Demarcus Beasley slipped off for one moment, while Brad Guzan did his typical Brad Guzan thing and allowed a shot to slip past him on the near post.
From there, the U.S. mindset changed. The squad had an unbelievable goal and the chance to get a point along with it. The defense hunkered down and withstood assault after assault from El Tri. The Mexicans finished the match with a hefty 74 percent possession, but were not able to break the American backline again.
It was a strange lineup chosen by Bruce Arena, with a whopping seven changes from the one that played in Denver on Thursday. Mexico looked like it had prepared for the USMNT lineup that beat Trinidad & Tobago, so Arena kept El Tri on its toes long enough to get the goal while simultaneously deploying a defense the Mexicans couldn't quite break down. Plus, the fresher American players probably did much better in Azteca's high elevation than their fatigued counterparts would have.
Lots of credit has to go to Arena, not only for his preparation for this match, but also for his work since replacing Jurgen Klinsmann as manager of the national team. Klinsmann lost two consecutive World Cup qualifiers in the Hex and put the U.S. in what once seemed like a hole it couldn't climb out. That was his undoing.
But Arena came in and righted the ship. In CONCACAF -- hell, in any federation -- if you win at home and draw on the road, you're going to qualify for the World Cup. This week, the U.S. won at home and it got a draw on the road, against Mexico to boot. The USMNT is back where it should be, maybe even a little better. That deserves a cheer.
Cy Brown writes about soccer and other stuff for Sports on Earth. Follow him on Twitter @CEPBrown.