USA Defense Finds Its Footing In Surprising Azteca Win

Did you hear we won in Mexico City for the first time ever?  Well, we did!  Here’s what I think about that.

It’s never pretty when we go down there.  Never.  Mexico is a better possession team than we are and at that altitude, the chasing we would have to do to try and negate that would quickly deplete our team’s energy.  To conserve legs for late in the match, we had to pack it in and let them have a lot of the ball.  It’s nerve-racking to watch, but you can count on one hand the real legitimate scoring opportunities the Mexicans created against this makeshift defense.

It is difficult to stay disciplined in this kind of game and to be patient enough to let your chance or two come.  Congrats to our guys for sticking to a plan for 90 minutes…

Props to Jurgen

His puzzling selection of Brek Shea, who can’t find form in Dallas to save his career, paid huge dividends late in the game when the lanky, galloping, barbershop advertisement of a kid nutmegged his defender and sent in the cross that led to the game winning goal.  It was the first aggressive play from the US side and it won the game.  Other critical decisions worked out as well.  Starting Edu in central defense was a smart move – he played well enough back there and now we know that’s an option, even in a tough match.  Castillo manned the left flank with aplomb – another headscratching selection vindicated.  Orozco-Fiscal, who hadn’t seen a US roster in an age (and seemed to have fallen off the map) came on to score a goal from his right back spot and helped close out the game with some strong work late in the match.

He got the tactics right, too.  Aesthetes won’t like the defense-first focus and our rigid refusal to stretch ourselves in possession.  But it frustrated Mexico into long balls and early crosses, and their harmless passing around the perimeter got impatient and sloppy, allowing us to capitalize late.

All his subs improved the team, and he identified Torres as the weak link and got him off the field at half time.

Cameron!

I mentioned after Guatemala that a huge positive from the game was that Cameron was able to step in as a sub and perform in a pressure situation.  Well this was a much tougher task.  Moments after completing his transfer to Stoke, he was called back across the Atlantic to lead a makeshift backline at this nightmare of a stadium.  Staying with Chicharito for 90 minutes is a big ask for any defender – with all these things working against him, a shaky performance would have been forgiveable.  Instead of shaky, we got rock solid.  His defending was clean and assertive, and his passing provides a nice upgrade from other options.  He appears to have nailed down that starting spot next to the aging Bocanegra for now.

Beckerman not Dreadful

Kyle Beckerman does not overwhelm you with obvious ‘wow’ moments.  He puts himself in the right spots defensively to usher opponents into pressure.  He quickly and reliably checks into gaps to receive the ball from his teammates.  He plays simple, clean, logical passes as early as possible .  He plays 100% without ego, and for that reason the casual observer mostly just notices his hair.  But he was excellent in this match.  He did all those things mentioned above, was aggressive in the tackle when required, and generally kept his side out of trouble which is job #1 in a game  like this.  Well done.

Torres

Hmmm. Not sure what he was trying to do out there.  It certainly wasn’t possession, and it certainly wasn’t ball winning or defense, and it certainly wasn’t attacking flair.  If you’re a starting center mid and bring none of those, you get subbed off at halftime. Klinsmann agreed.

Jones & Williams

Both of these players looked slow of thought and physically behind the pace in this match.  Chalk it up to preseason rust if you like, but I think Williams may have seen his last run at right mid

 

Final Thoughts

Valuable lessons learned in this one and a huge confidence boost for the US – who never has to hear how they’ve never won at Azteca again.  I’m excited to see the whole squad back together for a back to back qualifying fixture with Jamaica.  Cameron will obviously start.  Brek and Beckerman have given the coach something to think about.  The goal is 6 points – which will safely see the US into the Hex.

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