But Besler and Omar Gonzalez — the last two Major League Soccer defenders of the year — looked like grizzled veterans as they repeatedly snuffed out shots by Javier Hernandez, Javier Aquino and Jesus Zavala.
“The guys were outstanding,” Klinsmann said. “Our back line, you know, many said they were inexperienced. They deserve a huge compliment. … If one guy is not here, that’s a huge opportunity to the next one stepping in, and I think the guys that stepped in here, they took their chance.”
Mexico dominated possession, and Aquino, Hernandez and Zavala repeatedly tested the inexperienced American defense, picking on left back DaMarcus Beasley in particular after he picked up a yellow card in the eighth minute. But Gonzalez came up with one big play after another, and Besler looked quite comfortable in the Azteca pressure-cooker.
But they got some help from El Tri, which blew numerous chances, including what should have been a couple of gimmes for Hernandez.
The Manchester United striker misplayed a bouncing corner kick in the 87th, getting only the back of his right foot on it. He pitched forward and into the net, but the ball popped skyward and over the goal. In the 28th minute, Jorge Torres Nilo sent a perfect cross in to Chicharito, who was right in front of the goal, just a few feet from Guzan. But Hernandez skied that one, too.
Guzan, who made his first start since 2010 in Friday night’s qualifier, was superb. When Carlos Salcido lobbed a gorgeous chip shot to Zavala in the 43rd, Guzan ended the threat by coming out and slamming into Zavala. Not only did Guzan clear the ball, Zavala was called for a foul.
The Americans also got a bit lucky. Mexico could have been awarded a penalty kick for a two-handed push by Michael Bradley on Chicharito in the 12th minute. And El Tri probably should have been awarded one in the 76th when Maurice Edu took down Aquino from behind with a sliding tackle. The Mexican players were livid when no penalty was called, surrounding Guatemalan referee Walter Lopez. Lopez didn’t back down, though replays showed Edu had clipped Aquino’s foot.
The United States never really challenged Mexican goalkeeper Guilermo Ochoa. But their defense was offense enough, and the Americans were thrilled to leave Azteca with a rare point.
“That’s a huge challenge before 100,000 people,” Klinsmann said.
Note: Earlier Tuesday, FIFA rejected Costa Rica’s appeal of the Americans’ 1-0 victory Friday night, played in a snow storm at Commerce City, Colo.