There are some matches where you have a feeling you know what is going to happen before the first whistle is blown. One of those instances is when the U.S. Men’s National Team takes on the Mexico National Team in Azteca. So when the World Cup Qualifying match between the two teams kicked off tonight – very late I might add – in Azteca, I was expecting either a loss or, if the U.S. was lucky, a tie.
As you might have heard by this point – as it was midnight CT when all was said and done and I am about to pass out from exhaustion as I write this – the USMNT got the tie. But it sorta felt like a win. Here, let me explain.
One of the biggest problems of the U.S. is defense. It’s been that way since, well time out of mine. It’s been especially worrisome lately as key defensive players like Tim Howard, Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo were not in the squad for this set of games. Instead, Head Coach Jurgen Klinsmann was placing his faith in Brad Guzan, Geoff Cameron, Omar Gonzalez, DaMarcus Beasley, Clarence Goodson and Matt Besler. Not exactly comforting right? I mean, it could have been worse.
I don’t know what it was; maybe it was the “Klinsmann Gate” article from Brian Straus last week, maybe it was the “Us Against the World” mentality or maybe it was just luck that these guys would get together and do something to surprise even the U.S. fans. Whatever the case, it worked and Klinsmann may have inadvertently started the U.S. defense down a path to a promising future.
Let me put it to you this way before I get into my “points.” Mexico were awarded 15 corners during this match. Fifteen. And they didn’t get on the scoreboard once. Not one time. That is a feat to be marveled. They couldn’t finish to save their lives, but credit is also due to the USMNT back line.
First off, Brad Guzan probably put in the least surprising performance out of this defense. If you have been following him at all this season with Aston Villa, you know he’s been more than solid. I was very confident he would come in and easily fill Timmy Howard’s role as keeper. He didn’t really have too much work to do against Costa Rica Friday, but man did he step up against Mexico. His confidence off the line was solid and his saves reminiscent of Howard himself. In other words, when Howard can’t be between the posts, I’m more than confident with Guzan taking his place.
Second, the pairing of Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler. These two against Mexico ended up being more brilliant than I believe any of us were expecting. The communication was great and they were able to lock down the Mexican forwards decently enough to help keep the clean sheet. And Gonzalez was definitely Man of the Match. He owned Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez all night and was able to block and shut down more than his fair share of advances. LA Galaxy fans have been preaching for a long time now about how valuable Gonzalez is on the back line and I think we can all be rest assured he’s in Klinsmann’s long term plans.
Finally, I think I would be doing a great injustice if I didn’t mention DaMarcus Beasley’s performance tonight. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t pretty and he made quite a few mistakes. More often than not, he found himself scrambling to cover Javier Aquino Carmona on the left. He picked up a yellow very early in the match and from then on the Mexican offense just went at him hard. And while the first half wasn’t exactly golden from Beasley, the second half he stayed solid. I don’t think enough people talked about the shift he put in for the team. A lot of people probably won’t agree with me, but come on! He went the entire 90 minutes and continued to push and drive again Aquino. I think that deserves commendation, especially since he’s not a natural left back.
There are tons of others things I could mention about this game. There’s the two “missed” penalties by the ref. The first, the so-called push from Michael Bradley on Chicharito, which I think was more of Chicha looking for something rather than Bradley pushing. The second, Maurice Edu making a very stupid mistake, tackling Aquino from behind which the ref seemed to not even see.
Then there was Graham Zusi being a boss in the second half and making a huge 30-yard dash to block Reyna from getting a shot on goal. Gah, it was fantastic! But for me, the greatest thing about this match was the U.S. defensive players. They deserve all the props for this draw.
I could ramble on in my half-sleepy daze, but I’ll spare us all. In the end, this point feels like a win. A hard fought, deserved win. The U.S. are now tied with Costa Rica in points and sit second in the CONCACAF table. And Mexico… well, they’re fifth. They haven’t won a game yet. And for the USMNT, that’s just the cherry on top.