The United States Men’s National team fell to Mexico 2-1 on Friday night in Columbus, Ohio, in the first match of the Hexagonal round of 2018 World Cup Qualifying. The Mexicans vanquished the demons of Columbus and #DosACero with a resounding and a probably deserved win.
Jurgen Klinsmann opted to start the game in a 3-5-2 instead of the Americans’ usual 4-4-2, and the results were disastrous. Mexico dominated the Americans, hitting the post and bossing the play before eventually grabbing a 1-0 lead in the 20th minute off a deflected strike from Miguel Layun. Starting goalkeeper Tim Howard injured his knee on a goal kick in the 40th minute, and Brad Guzan played the rest of the match.
The USA slowly clawed their way back into the game after switching to a 4-4-2 and it tied the game at 1-1 after some nice interplay between Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore in the second half. After Wood’s goal, the game turned into a rather scrappy, intense affair, with both sides having chances to win.
In the 88th minute, Mexican legend Rafa Marquez won an unmarked header on a corner kick and looped it into the far side of the net. Mexico saw out the remainder of the game despite and opened the Hex with a perfect start. Here are five things we learned:
1. Klinsmann should not suddenly change tactics in big matches.
Jurgen Klinsmann started the USMNT in a 3-5-2, leaving Alejandro Bedoya and DeAndre Yedlin out of the starting lineup. The USA had only used a 3-5-2 for one half in the last year or so, and their inexperience showed as Mexico ran riot in the first 30 minutes of the game. The Americans did not look fully comfortable until they were back in the 4-4-2 that they traditionally play in.
Klinsmann’s decision is understandable and was trying to gain an edge with the element of surprise, but it seemed like he was overthinking the match. The decision shows how much respect Klinsmann had for Mexico in that he needed a sort of gimmick to face them, but he would have been better suited letting the USA test its style versus the Mexicans.
2. Christian Pulisic is the Americans’ best offensive option
The 18-year-old has generated the type of hype reserved for players like Landon Donovan and Freddy Adu. So far, Pulisic seems to be on a trajectory similar to Donovan’s, with the potential to be so much more. His technical ability bailed the US out of many sticky situations when Mexico closed down, and he repeatedly picked up the ball in dangerous positions and ran at the opposing backline. He wasn’t perfect and his first touch let him down a few times, but his arrival on the international stage is complete.
3. Mexico was bailed out by a late goal
That isn’t to say El Tri wasn’t the better side for the majority of the game — they clearly were. They couldn’t capitalize on their superiority in the first half and allowed the US back in the game. After the equalizer, the match devolved into a scrappy affair and despite Mexico having more chances, it looked like both sides were going to battle to a draw. Marquez’s goal didn’t steal the three points for Mexico, but it was slightly more opportunistic than it was deserved.
And on the goal — what a terrible time to switch off for the Americans. Despite being slightly overmatched, they were solid enough against the Mexicans to reasonably escape the game with one goal allowed. Allowing a center back to roam free on a crucial corner is inexcusable and the USA deserved to lose for such a bad mistake.
4. The USA fought back well
Despite being outclassed in the first 30 minutes, the response from the Americans was excellent. Klinsmann is one of the best managers in the world at extreme reactionary tactics, and always does his best to chase games once he is down. While his default tactics are often questionable, like the 3-5-2 he used to start, his teams don’t give up and it meshes well with the spirit of the USMNT. USA turned the game into a back-and-forth affair and were able to connect passes deep in Mexico’s third. Even after Wood’s goal, the USA came close a few times to finding a winner and forced Mexico to commit a slew of cynical fouls. In such a tight match, the USA eventually matched the level of Mexico, and now need to focus on turning in a complete 90 minutes against Costa Rica.
5. Goalie trouble
Tim Howard’s injury is especially concerning for the USMNT, considering how rusty Brad Guzan is. Guzan played in first minutes last night since September against Trinidad and Tobago since he hasn’t played for Middlesbrough since August. Guzan was fine last night, but probably could have commanded a tighter ship on set pieces, since the communication was clearly not there on the game-winner.
While Guzan will be the starter against Costa Rica, his rust can be exposed over an entire match if Costa Rica preps accordingly. Wiliam Yarbrough and Ethan Horvath are in competition for the third goalkeeping spot, and might actually be better choices for Klinsmann than the unused Guzan. While a Hex match against Costa Rica might not be the best time to throw a goalkeeper into the fire, the USA needs a long-term first choice goalkeeper, and Guzan isn’t that player.
The USA is back in action on Tuesday when it takes on Costa Rica in San Jose, Costa Rica in the second match on the Hex.