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Five things we learned from the United States’ draw with Mexico

Our key takeaways from the point at Estadio Azteca.

Portland Timbers v Los Angeles Galaxy Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

USA 1, Mexico 1

The United States Men’s National Team came away with the Estadio Azteca with a hard-earned and unexpected point thanks to 90 minutes of diligent defending and an absolute golazo from Michael Bradley. The draw leaves the USA in a great position in the Hex, in third place with eight points after six matches, with Panama in fourth place with six points after five matches. Mexico remains atop the group with 14 points after the equalizer from Carlos Vela in 23rd minute.

The point is only the fourth positive result the USA has earned all time at the Estadio Azteca. Bruce Arena’s squad will be back in action on July 1 with a friendly against Ghana before kicking off the Gold Cup later that month.

Five Things We Learned

1. Arena’s lineup gamble paid off

Bruce Arena said he would make seven changes between Thursday’s match against Trinidad and Tobago and last night, to the bewilderment of most fans. Arena completely changed the makeup of the squad, opting for a 5-4-1, with Guzan in goal. It seemed like Arena was content from the beginning to bunker in, put everyone behind the ball, and try to frustrate the Mexicans with an extra body in the backline. Arena’s plan would have made some more sense if he didn’t pick a few players that did not seem ready for the moment. While DaMarcus Beasley and DeAndre Yedlin looked a little overmatched on the wings, adding Kellyn Acosta in the midfield worked about as well as possible.

Ultimately, the USA held only 24% possession the entire match and had no interest in playing an open game whatsoever. But Arena promised pragmatism when he came in and he delivered it in its highest form here. He said after the match that he “told the team on day one of this camp that we would play that way in this game."

I’m not sure he should have gotten away with his gamble, or that he should repeat it again in a high-stakes situation, but Bradley’s early goal pretty was the perfect way to start a gameplan like that. When the USA inevitably plays a superior team in a high stakes World Cup match, they likely won’t be as fortunate.

2. Michael Bradley scored one the greatest goals in USMNT history

The moment? Facing rivals Mexico at the Estadio Azteca in a World Cup Qualifier. The skill? Intercepting a Chicharito pass 50 yards from goal and chipping Guillermo Ochoa perfectly from 40 yards out. It doesn’t get any better than what Bradley did on Sunday night and it’s hard to find a goal that matches in both categories.

USA fans often target Bradley as the source of derision and many have called for him to abandon his starting role as the central defensive mid in the squad. But tonight proved why he will and should be the man going forward. The goal was nice, but how many players does the US have that can run up and down the field for two straight matches at altitude, keep possession calmly, and spray the ball to the wings consistently? Bradley may never be the perfect player and has some performances he wishes he could take back, but his position as the leader on the field of this team is unassailable.

3. Mexico struggled to create chances against a resolute backline

The creativity wasn’t quite there from Juan Carlos Osario’s side, and it has been a quiet problem throughout recent matches despite the positive results. The hardest task for elite offensive teams is breaking down a stout and organized defense, but with Mexico’s talent, there should be more first goals from open play. As the match wore on, Hector Herrera and Jonathan Dos Santos did a better job of circulating the ball to wide areas quickly. The Mexcian wingers targeted Beasley and Yedlin, but could not complete enough take-ons or deliver enough dangerous balls.

The Mexico goal came right after Bobby Wood fluffed a golden chance to make it 2-0, and with too many bodies forward for a corner, El Tri stormed forward and Hernandez found Carlos Vela who cut inside on DaMarcus Beasley and fired past Guzan. The goal showed how dangerous Mexico can be in space, but in absence of that they were rather stale.

With a long summer coming ahead with the Confederations Cup and the Gold Cup, Osario will have a lot of time to tinker and find the right personnel to keep the attack flowing at all times.

4. Kellyn Acosta should see more playing time

The FC Dallas man broke up more than his fair share of Mexico attacks through the middle of the park and was a physical presence throughout the match. He was a simple distributor in possession and played a textbook performance for a central defensive mid. At no point did he look lost on the stage and he should be a must-have player for big matches. With Jermaine Jones at age 35, the 21-year-old Acosta may very well be the future of the US midfield. In any game where Arena is using two central mids, Acosta should get a consideration.

5. Left back is a problem for the USA

DaMarcus Beasley was fine for the USA on Sunday, and despite getting beaten inside on the equalizer, it was his job not to let players get outside of him and cut to the endline. Even if Beasley had an outstanding game, the 35 year old is not good enough to be a first team fullback at the highest international level. As a Bruce Arena favorite, he might play his way into the World Cup next summer, but fans have to hope that Timmy Chandler can find his health and his form. Jorge Villafana is rather unspectacular and struggled this year to find first team minutes at Santos Laguna in Liga MX. Chandler should be the guy going forward, but it’s fair to say there is little quality depth behind him.