The United States defied expectations - and a rowdy crowd elated by Mexico's Olympic gold - to break a 75-year winless streak at its neighboring rival with an 80th minute goal and a series of saves that delivered a 1-0 victory.
Michael Orozco Fiscal's goal and Tim Howard's late sprawling saves left tens of thousands of fans at intimidating Azteca Stadium in stunned silence. The glum crowds filing out after the game Wednesday night were stark counterpoint to a first half marked by raucous booing, choruses of booing, tossed drinks and laser pointers, all aimed at the Americans or their few fans.
The stadium is one of soccer's toughest for road teams, but the 56,000 fans at the half-full Azteca seemed driven beyond their usual aggressiveness by Mexico's Olympic win on Saturday - some of the winners entered the stadium at halftime to an ear-splitting welcome and rounds of fireworks.
Then, overcoming the side that dominated them for most of the night, the Americans went ahead on a move created by a trio of second-half substitutes.
Brek Shea cut inside Severo Meza on the left flank and crossed to Terrence Boyd at the top of the 6-yard box. With his back to the goal, Boyd took a touch with his left foot and with his right made a quick backheel pass to Orozco Fiscal, who with his left foot poked it from 3 yards past goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and defender Jorge Torres Nilo for his first international goal.
"The goal was for the U.S. fans and the whole U.S. We made history," said Orozco Fiscal, a 26-year-old defender from Orange, Calif., who plays in Mexico for San Luis.
He entered in the 77th minute for his fifth international appearance and first since October. Shea, back with the team for the first time since February following a season of turmoil in Major League Soccer, came on a minute later. Boyd had entered to start the second half.
"Just happy we won and made history," Shea said. "It's something we haven't done in a long time. Just to be on the roster is cool."
Howard preserved the lead, changing directions to stop a deflected shot by Javier Hernandez in the 85th, then pawing away a 4-yard downward header by Chicharito in the 89th.
"I think it's huge. It's huge for I think all American fans, it's huge for the team, and it's historic," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "We were very well aware that we've never won here at the Azteca Stadium. This is an amazing experience for the all the players. We told them before the game: This moment is for you, go and grab it."
The U.S. had been 0-23-1 against El Tri in 75 years of games at Mexico, including 0-19-1 in the thin air at altitude in Mexico City - where they had been outscored 81-14.
"You can shrivel up or you can accept it," Howard said. "We deserved a little bit of luck, and we got it tonight."
Mexico outshot the U.S. 15-6 and had a 10-0 advantage in corner kicks. But the Americans came away with their second big win this year, following February's first-ever victory over Italy, in a friendly at Genoa.
"Tim Howard kept us in the game I don't know how many times," said Klinsmann, who has been trying to change the defensive mindset the American had at times under Bob Bradley.
With the European clubs getting their seasons under way, the U.S. used a half-strength roster and a makeshift central defense.
Mexico also was below strength following the Olympics - Carlos Salcido, its regular left back, started in the win over Brazil in the gold-medal game. El Tri dominated possession but failed to connect on several open shots as the Americans paired Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron in the center of their back line in the absence of Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson and Oguchi Onyewu.
"For me, it's a game that I grew up watching," Cameron said of the U.S.-Mexico rivalry. "To be a part of a win for the first time speaks for itself."