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U.S. makes most of chances to beat Mexico

Times Staff Writer

It was a game of two chances. Jared Borgetti of Mexico missed his, Jimmy Conrad of the U.S. did not.

That, in essence, was the story of Wednesday night’s international soccer showdown at the University of Phoenix Stadium, where the U.S. shut out Mexico, 2-0, on goals by Conrad and Landon Donovan in front of a largely pro-Mexican crowd of 62,462.

It was only a friendly, but it counted all the same.

For one thing, it extended the Americans’ unbeaten streak against Mexico on U.S. soil to eight games at 7-0-1, during which Mexico has not scored a single goal. For another, it improved Bob Bradley’s record to 2-0 as interim coach of the U.S. squad, immeasurably improving his chances of eventually making the position his own.

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Finally, it signaled to Mexico that even with the charismatic Hugo Sanchez now in charge as coach, it will continue to have a difficult time against a U.S. national team that no longer fears any regional opponent.

This was a match Mexico had been expected to win. Sanchez brought a vastly more experienced team for his debut with the Tricolores.

One statistic tells everything: Mexico’s starting lineup had a combined 705 international games under its belt, led by defensive midfielder Pavel Pardo’s 132 national team games.

By contrast, the U.S. starting lineup had played only a combined 305 games, with Donovan leading the way with 85 of those.

That startling 400-game difference in experience should have been enough, but although Mexico was in control for large portions of the match and had more of the attacking play, it failed to take advantage of its chances and the U.S. team grew in confidence as the evening progressed.

Conrad, the former UCLA defender who was a revelation at the 2006 World Cup, set the tone early on by letting Borgetti know that he would not be pushed around.

Borgetti struggled and grew more frustrated as the game wore on, missing a fine scoring opportunity when he flashed a header wide of the left post in the 42nd minute.

When Conrad had a similar chance seven minutes into the second half, he sent his header off a Donovan corner kick spinning into the net beyond the reach of diving Mexican goalkeeper Oswaldo Sanchez.

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“Landon served a good ball,” Conrad said. “I took a couple of steps toward the near post, kind of ran the guy who was marking me into some traffic, and I just picked a spot and put it away.”

It was Conrad’s first international goal in his 19th appearance for the U.S.

Donovan scored his 27th goal in his 86th appearance in the final minute, beating the goalkeeper on a breakaway after an attempted Mexican clearance kick had rebounded off Canadian referee Mauricio Navarro.

Was it special to defeat Mexico?

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“Oh, absolutely,” Conrad said. “Especially because it’s Hugo Sanchez’s first game. He brought his A team and we came with our young guys to make sure that they got experience and played in a good atmosphere. I’m happy we came out with the result.

“We’re still 3 1/2 years away from the World Cup, but I think this was a good step in the right direction for Bob as well as for our young guys to gain experience.”

grahame.jones@latimes.com


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