My initial reaction Wednesday night and most of Thursday was jumping up and down yelling U-S-A! U-S-A! Now that it’s Friday I feel as though I should post my thoughts about the game from the American perspective.
First and foremost: Geoff Cameron, where have you been all my life? The recent Stoke City signing was a star of the game for the U.S. along with goalkeeper Tim Howard. Cameron was dominant in the air and made a point to put a body on Chicharito early and often. Cameron’s constant reminders to the forward were one of the reasons why Chicharito was unable to put his mark on the contest.
Tim Howard had his best game for the national team in a calendar year, perhaps with the exception of the match against Italy in Genoa. Howard was absolutely fantastic in goal on Wednesday night and made two of the biggest saves of recent memory late in the game to preserve the U.S. lead.
Maurice Edu did not earn similar plaudits. He sometimes looked lost playing in defense instead of his normal midfield role but was physically strong enough to adapt quickly.
Fabian Johnson has proved in the past that he is Klinsmann’s first choice left back. Klinsmann trusted him so much that he played Johnson on the right side and employed Castillo on the left side. Edgar Castillo played well in the first half but once Mexico opened the game up in the second period, the Tijuana left back appeared to struggle with the pace and intensity of the match.
Jermaine Jones was solid defensively but lacked quality going forward. Kyle Beckerman played a strong game and wasn’t intimidated by the atmosphere in the Azteca. Danny Williams made a couple of quality runs in the first half but didn’t do much else to impress while playing in an unusual formation. The 4-3-1-2 also failed to get the best out of Jose Francisco Torres. Pachuca’s talismanic attacking midfielder was largely absent from the game and he was subbed out at halftime.
Gomez and Donovan played well up top but couldn’t produce. The forwards lacked service for long stretches of the game but when they had the ball they couldn’t make their few chances count.
Beasley and Boyd came on for Donovan and Torres at halftime. The Puebla winger did his part of harrying Mexico when they had the ball and Boyd made his impact when the opportunity arose. Graham Zusi replaced Danny Williams, who had an even quieter start to the second half than he had first half before Michael Orozco Fiscal and Brek Shea replaced Castillo and Gomez. Orozco Fiscal played right back which allowed Fabian Johnson to move over to his more comfortable (but not natural) left back position. Brek Shea took up his role operating on the left side going forward for the United States.
Shortly after these substitutes were made, three second half additions combined to create history. Brek Shea, Terrence Boyd and Michael Orozco Fiscal together had a total of 20 senior national team appearances prior to kickoff. Jurgen Klinsmann looked like a man of genius when he employed several MLS players (or recently MLS players) against Mexico. Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake) played a cool, calm and collected ball out left to Brek Shea (FC Dallas). Shea made quick work of Mexico’s right back Severo Meza before dragging center back Hector Moreno out of position. From the byline Shea was able to direct a pin-point pass to Terrence Boyd’s left foot. Boyd let the ball bounce off his standing leg and then knocked the ball on towards Orozco Fiscal with the heel of his right foot despite having two Mexican players guarding him. Michael Orozco Fiscal (Philadelphia Union, 2010) may have gotten scruffy contact on the ball but it was just enough to curl the ball out of the reach of a lunging Jorge Torres Nilo on the goal line for Mexico.
That sequence had so many points at which it could have broken down. Mexican defenders have several opportunities to get a toe to the ball, but couldn’t. Brek Shea played Meza like a cheap fiddle when he nutmegged the defender at the edge of the 18 yard box and took the ball to the endline to draw Maza out of position. Boyd showed incredible strength to hold off Hector Moreno in front of the goal and Orozco was opportunistic as can be making space for himself inside the opposition penalty area. You can look at that play and call it lucky or scrappy. Or you can see the multiple times that precision was employed by Shea, Boyd, and Orozco Fiscal to overcome the odds and break the curse of the Azteca.
The first ever victory for the United States means much more than any other friendly game could. This game was much more important than beating Italy in Genoa even if Dempsey had scored four instead of just the one. On the walls of the tunnel leading out to the field, there are placards for every team that has ever beaten Mexico at the Azteca. Klinsmann’s U.S. team now joins the likes of Spain and Brazil as one of the 8 teams to down the Mexican at their national stadium.
Jurgen Klinsmann named a very heavy domestic based roster for this friendly. There were more MLS players named to the 23 man squad than I can remember because the European club season is about to start. That old-fashioned American work ethic panned out on the field especially through players like Geoff Cameron and Kyle Beckerman.
I correctly predicted Mexico’s starting lineup but was quite far off base with Klinsmann’s selection. I had the team playing a 4-3-3 but the German lined his team up much more defensively in a 4-3-1-2. This plan played out to a T as the U.S. was able to absorb a tremendous amount of pressure from Mexico, especially in the second half.
The fact that I could name every player Mexico would employ and in the correct position could be significant in the future. Chepo de la Torre likes to line his team up in the same formation with the same tactics for almost every game. Klinsmann showed the ability to change the system entirely to deal with a superior team. If the U.S. is going to improve on the world stage, the players have to learn how to beat better teams and to win in hostile environments. That is precisely what the Yanks did on Wednesday night.
I could not be more proud of my national team for going down to an overwhelming city (I know from experience), walking out into an overwhelming setting in the Azteca and slaying the dragon. The United States has now beaten Mexico in the two places where it hurts the most, in the World Cup in 2002 and in Estadio Azteca on Wednesday night. A bunch of inexperienced guys from the U.S. was able to break the curse against a first-choice Mexico team. Mexico may still be a better team, but this victory removes the mystique that stadium had over the United States team and gives hope to all American soccer fans.