MEXICO CITY -- Mexico needed a win more than the United States on Sunday and it showed.
Safely among the leaders in World Cup qualifying, the Americans played their worst game of the year and dropped out of first place with their first defeat in the regional finals.
''We were the most dangerous Mexican player today,'' defender Jeff Agoos said after the Americans lost 1-0. ''We were our own worst enemy. ... We beat ourselves.''
At 7,350 feet in Azteca Stadium, the Americans hit a lowpoint, getting outshot 14-4 and committing needless fouls, including one by Joe-Max Moore that led to Jared Borgetti's goal in the 15th minute.
Mexico, with a new coach and a new lineup, needed a win to get back into contention for one of the three berths in the North and Central American and Caribbean region. Only a stellar performance by U.S. goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who made three great saves, prevented a rout.
The United States, 0-21-1 at Mexico, didn't take a serious shot in the first half. Moore, replacing suspended Claudio Reyna as the playmaking midfielder, had an awful game and was replaced by Cobi Jones at the start of the second half.
While the Americans had a few breakaways late, none led to serious threats.
''If you can't have the ball, you are forced to play defense,'' U.S. coach Bruce Arena said.
Mexico goalkeeper Oscar Perez needed to make only one save.
''We had trouble communicating,'' Jones said. ''We were not organized.''
The United States (4-1-1), seeking its fourth straight World Cup appearance, dropped into second place behind Costa Rica (4-1-1), which has the same goal difference but more total goals following a 3-2 win Sunday at Honduras.
Honduras and Jamaica (both 2-2-2) are five points back Mexico (2-3-1) is six behind. Only the top three qualify.
With a win against Honduras in their next game at Washington's RFK Stadium on Sept. 1, the Americans would pretty much ensure themselves a berth in next year's 32-nation field in Japan and South Korea. But the earliest the United States probably can clinch is Sept. 5 at Costa Rica.
Mexico came out aggressively, dominating from the outset. The Americans played back, waiting for Mexico to tire itself out.
After Moore made a needless foul on Alberto Garcia Aspe in the 15th minute, Aspe sent a free kick over the middle.
Borgetti, beating what looked to be an offsides trap, was unmarked, with no defenders near, and headed the ball past Keller, ending the U.S. goalkeeper's streak of five straight shutouts in qualifying.
That was enough for Mexico.
In the stands, the rivalry between the neighboring countries was intense. About 110,000 fans, many with their faces painted red, white and green, hooted and called out profane chants and slurs at a small group that had the audacity to unveil a giant American flag.
A deafening whistle filled the stadium whenever an announcement came over the public address system in English, and it was all but impossible to hear ''The Star-Spangled Banner'' over the hoots.
Mexico, traditionally a regional soccer powerhouse, has struggled this year and a loss Sunday probably would have forced Mexico into needing wins in its final four games.
After its previous game, a 3-1 loss to Honduras, the team replaced coach Enrique Meza with Javier Aguirre, who overhauled his roster.
Aguirre dropped many of the national team mainstays and brought back Garcia Aspe, a midfielder who has 21 goals in 87 appearances with the national team, as well as a slew of players from the Cruz Azul club, which lost on penalty kicks in the final of the Libertators Cup to Boca Juniors of Argentina on Thursday. Six Cruz Azul players were in the game for Mexico.
Missing from Mexico's roster were recent starters such as Jorge Campos, Luis Hernandez, Pavel Pardo, Victor Ruiz and Manuel Abundis.
Aguirre said he knew Arena would study tapes from his coaching at the Pachuca club, so he changed his tactics -- or rather eliminated them.
''Since we didn't have much time to practice together, I just told everyone to do what they could,'' he said.
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