Quite a bit of fanfare was trumped up for this match. The revenge game for losing the Gold Cup in embarrassing fashion. The litmus test for new U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. The chance for the United States to finally play creative attacking soccer. When the referee blew the final whistle, I was pleased with what I saw on the field, as a USMNT supporter but also as a fan of good soccer.
United States starters: Goalkeeper- Howard, Left Back- Castillo, Right Back – Cherundolo, Center Back – Orozco, Center Back – Bocanegra, Left Wing – Torres, Right Wing – Donovan, Holding Midfield – Beckerman, Box to Box Midfield – Jones, Central Midfield – Bradley, Center Forward – Buddle
The United States began the match in the traditionally 4-5-1 mold and seemed to be playing by the same script. Our back-line seemed content to sit back and allow Mexico to pour on the pressure. It appeared that the only chances the United States were on track to fashion for themselves would be on counter attacking breaks. But sadly those didn’t even come as every time the ball was played up to Edson Buddle he tried unsuccessfully to turn into his defender instead of playing the way he was facing or spraying a ball out wide to the wings. With a smarter center forward, the U.S. could have created many more chances in the early part of the game.
Oribe Peralta’s goal was either a fantastic piece of skill or largely an accident. Either way, it was something Tim Howard could have and should have saved. When you look at the play, Howard is tracking the path of the ball and then slows up his pursuit. He clearly feels the shot is going wide. A younger goalkeeper, or maybe just a different goalkeeper, would have made sure. Howard has long been the clear number one choice for the national team, but perhaps a change should be in order. At the very least it would shake things up. And I don’t mean substituting a younger ‘keeper in for the second half of a game like Bradley did with Sean Johnson against Chile in January. I fully expect Howard to sit out the two friendlies coming up in September. Friendlies are supposed to be about giving players a shot at the big time, not solely about making a profit for Soccer United Marketing and the United States Soccer Federation; but more on that coming soon.
The second half of the match, and to some extent the ten minutes before halftime, showed the Americans taking more risks with their attacks. United States’ players were able to build pressure up to Mexico’s 18 yard box but weren’t able to really penetrate because 3 Mexican defenders were always back covering. Substitutions really changed the complexion of the game.
In the 72nd minute, Juan Agudelo got great service in the box but played around with the ball before coughing up possession. Agudelo must have thought he was still in the MLS where he can get away with that more and where defenders respect him. Sadly, on the international level (and especially against Mexico), a player must earn that respect. The transition from club to international soccer is another topic that I’ll address soon. But two players who were earning that respect in the second half were Donovan and MLS standout Break Shea. Donovan moved from the wing to a more central floating position with the introduction of Robbie Rogers and Shea, but he still found opportunities to fly down the sides. In the 76th minute in particular, he sped down the left flank and absolutely burned his marker, the recently entered Paul Aguilar.
Donovan’s position on the team going forward is in question, as new players are settling in around him. However, I don’t see him in an advanced playmaker role. Multiple times Donovan crushed the momentum of U.S. surges by playing the ball behind his intended recipient instead of into the path of his run. He did this on a ball to Torres in he 75th minute and again, more frustratingly, on a lung busting run by Brek Shea.
Which brings us to the man of the match for me, 21 year old FC Dallas star, Brek Shea. Shea was consistently a thorn in the side of the Mexican defense who had no response for his speed. Brek Shea streaking into the box created the goal scoring opportunity for Robbie Rogers to tap in from close range. Not only did Shea show his pace throughout the half hour he was on the field, but he also displayed his deft touch and quick feet.
As good as Brek Shea was, Ricardo Clark was worse. Brought on in the 84th minute, Clark’s only imprint on the game was killing dead two promising offensive chances. Some players I thought deserved another look at the national team after some time off. Clark got that opportunity, if only for eight minutes. He wasted little time in proving why he should not be considered for future national teams. All he offers the squad is mediocre play in the central midfield and an awkward fill-in at central defense in the case that all three substitutions are used late in the game.
Somewhere in between, Robbie Rogers impressed with his pacy work ethic and Juan Agudelo showed his ability to pass a ball. These two traits linked up well when Agudelo played Rogers through in the 85th minute. Rogers sprinted past Gerardo Torrado, who first tried to grab Rogers arm and succeeded in pulling his shirt before stepping on his foot. Torrado committed a professional foul to prevent a clear goal scoring opportunity, but the important part is that Torrado was the last defender. Because Torrado was the last man back, if the referee decides he committed a foul it MUST be a red card. Here’s a link to the play on Univision. Is it me, or does Torrado look a little bit relieved at the color of the card? Up to this point, I was pretty pleased with the way the referee had kept the peace in what could have been a very chippy affair. Aside from a scuffle involving Steve Cherundolo and Sinha in the first half and some immature antics from Gio in the second half, the game was relatively clean. I think the referee team, led by the Jamaican official was a little too laid back in this instance. It was a friendly and no one likes to see red cards in friendlies, but that was a clear cut call for anyone watching the game.
In any case, the final result of the match was a fair reflection of the two teams. Perhaps without their most potent players respectively in Clint Dempsey and Chicharito, both teams had to improvise a bit. Mexico’s goal was a creative piece of flair play. The goal the U.S. scored came from hardworking play via the pace of Brek Shea and Robbie Rogers. Moving forward, Shea came out a winner, Clark a loser and Klinsmann can still sell his hope scheme to America.