By Simon Evans
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - United States central defenders Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler went into Tuesday's game against Mexico at the Azteca Stadium with just two World Cup qualifying starts between them, but looked like they had been alongside each other for years in a spirited 0-0 draw.
Gonzalez, making his third start in a qualifier and Besler making his first, held Mexico at bay in front of more than 95,000 fans as the U.S. earned just their second point ever at the home of their arch-rivals.
Besler only found out for sure he was starting on the morning of the game after Clarence Goodson, who featured in the 1-0 win against Costa Rica on Friday, told coach Juergen Klinsmann he wasn't ready for 90 minutes due to a hamstring injury.
For Klinsmann, the performance of the pair, who both play in Major League Football, was largely due to the time they spent together during the January off-season when he brought in MLS players to a training camp in Los Angeles.
"I think we got to give credit a little bit to our January camp," Klinsmann told reporters.
"That gave us a chance actually to have Omar and Matt working day by day, basically side by side.
"There was already a very good understanding from them because they trained a month long together.
"So we were very calm and knew that once Clarence couldn't go, that this is the next move. It was a logical move and a move we made with a lot of trust and belief in Matt," he said.
Gonzalez in particular was a dominant figure at the back, reading the game well, making timely interceptions and, impressively for a 24-year-old, organising the defence.
The L.A. Galaxy defender agreed with his coach that the January camp had paid dividends when it mattered.
"That was really huge. For me personally, it was a lot about getting to know Klinsmann because I was injured and hadn't spent the time with the team -- I didn't really know him at all."
Of Besler he said: "Tonight we looked like we had been playing a long time together and I thought that it all felt pretty natural."
Mexican-American Gonzalez is in the final year of his contract with L.A. Galaxy and has been closely watched by Mexican team Club America but his recent displays may attract attention from Europe.
U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley, not known for showering teammates with compliments, was full of praise for Gonzalez and 2012 MLS Defender of the Year Besler.
"I thought they both did really well, they are two guys that we have a lot of confidence in. Going forward they are going to be really important for us.
"With the opportunity to play in a game like this, the experience that you get, the confidence you can take away, they can both walk away feeling really proud of what they gave.
"They can walk away from here feeling that if they continue to improve and show their quality they are going to be two very important guys for us".
(Reporting By Simon Evans; Editing by Ossian Shine)