Thursday, August 11, 2011

Thoughts on USA - Mexico

The U.S. opened up the Jurgen Klinsmann era with a hard fought 1-1 draw against Mexico last night. After falling behind early on a volley from Oribe Peralta, the U.S. battled back and eventually had three second half substitutes, Juan Agudelo, Brek Shea and Robbie Rogers - all MLSers, combine for the equalizer. This match was an important one for the U.S., not only because it Jurgen Klinsmann's coaching debut, but because this match came on the heels of a complete meltdown against Mexico in the Gold Cup Final during which they squandered an early 2-0 lead and eventually fell 4-2.

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The U.S. opened the match up using a 4-5-1 formation with Edson Buddle up top as the lone striker. Buddle, who has been absent from the National Team picture since appearing in the 2010 World Cup was one of 5 U.S. starters making their 2011 debut for the U.S. National Team. Jose Torres, like Buddle, hadn't been with the squad since the World Cup, Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman saw his first action since World Cup Qualifying back in 2009, while Edgar Castillo and Michael Orozco Fiscal were both appearing for the U.S. for just the second time.

Mexico meanwhile countered with a very similar lineup to the one they used in their route of the U.S. in the Gold Cup. Eight of the eleven starters used in the match had appeared in Mexico's earlier win. Goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa started in place of Alfredo Talavera, although Ochoa would have likely started the previous match had he not been suspended from the tournament following a failed drug test (he was later cleared). The other two changes were a bit more notable. Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez, the 23 year old Manchester United striker who scored 7 times during the Gold Cup, didn't make the trip, and Giovani dos Santos, the 22 year old speedster who scored in the recent Gold Cup Final, came off the bench.

For the majority of the first half, even without offensive weapons Chicharito and dos Santos, Mexico was able to control the run of play. The U.S. failed to even get off a shot in the first 45 minutes, but while Mexico did take the early 1-0 lead on Peralta's goal, they didn't create an exceptional number of good chances. In fact Tim Howard was largely untested with the exception of the goal, on which he never really stood a chance. The U.S. defense was solid though not spectacular with holding midfielders Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman doing a good job of getting behind the ball to help out. Even on the goal, Michael Bradley had Peralta covered, it was just a really good finish. The numerous opportunities Mexico was able to create in the Gold Cup Final weren't there in this match, and as a result, despite getting outplayed, they only trailed by a goal.

The second half was a different story. Despite Giovani dos Santos coming on for Mexico as a substitute, the U.S. started to work themselves back into the game. Juan Agudelo and Brek Shea came into the match for Buddle and Jones and provided an immediate spark. Ten minutes later, Klinsmann made another solid substitution bringing on Robbie Rogers for Michael Bradley. Just minutes after the change, Agudelo received a throw in deep along the endline and played the ball back to a streaking Brek Shea. Shea weaved his way down to the endline and played a perfect low cross past a diving Ochoa and to a wide open Rogers who'd been left unmarked on the back post. Rogers easily tapped in the equalizer for his second career goal for the U.S. and his first since the 2009 Gold Cup against Grenada.

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The U.S. wasn't done though as they continued to press forward. Landon Donovan started to wreak havoc on the Mexican defense finding Jose Torres at the top of the box only to have the shot go just wide. Robbie Rogers had an open look at the top of the 18 but hammered the attempt well over the bar. Donovan then found Brek Shea, but Shea's left footed attempt was denied by Ochoa. Perhaps the best chance though came on a counter when Agudelo sent a ball over the top to a streaking Robbie Rogers who got in behind the defense only to be pulled down by Gerardo Torrado about 25-30 yards from the net. However, Torrado was only issued a yellow card on the play and Donovan's resulting free kick attempt didn't clear the wall. Ricardo Clark would shank a late opportunity from the 18 and in the closing minutes his centering pass to Agudelo wound up just behind him and the two rivals were forced to settle for the 1-1 draw.

Overall, it was a solid effort for the Americans, and while they didn't produce a victory, there were certainly a lot of positives to take from the match. Youngsters Brek Shea and Juan Agudelo both played very well, the defense that got torched for 4 goals in the Gold Cup Final limited the chances for the Mexican attack, veterans Carlos Bocanegra and Landon Donovan had little trouble integrating with a new cast of characters, and the U.S. was able to create opportunities out of the run of play in the second half. Still, it should be noted that the U.S. still has issues it needs to resolve. Left back is still a big question mark and while Edgar Castillo didn't play badly, he made a lot of bad passes on the attack and didn't do enough to lock down a roster spot. And the U.S. still doesn't have a bonafide goal scorer playing up top. Edson Buddle isn't suited well for going 1 on 3 on the attack, and while Juan Agudelo has a great work rate, he's still pretty raw. Robbie Rogers scored the goal, and had a breakaway attempt foiled by a blatant foul, but it remains to be seen if he's a true contributor at this level. So Klinsmann still has work to be done, but a 1-1 draw with Mexico isn't a bad way to start his regime. Next up for the new-look Americans, a home friendly against CONCACAF rival Costa Rica on September 2nd.

Some other results from yesterday's friendlies from around the globe:

Japan 3 South Korea 0
Ivory Coast 4 Israel 3

Portugal 5 Luxembourg 0
Honduras 2 Venezuela 0
Panama 3 Bolivia 1
Ecuador 2 Costa Rica 0
Germany 3 Brazil 2
Italy 2 Spain 1
France 1 Chile 1

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