Thursday, February 08, 2007

USA 2 – 0 Mexico: Recap

Well, in a match that on paper should have been the first loss in 6 years on US soil, the USMNT turned out a tale of two different halves. The first half was a tale of a group of guys dealing with a hostile environment and an opposition that was a collection of players in better shape and more determined to attack the goal. During the first half, that group remained composed and was able to weather the storm that was the Mexican attack.

Halftime came and we not only saw ESPN showing international soccer highlights, but we sat through 30 second of Sunil Gulati say absolutely nothing at all; only to have Bruce Arena use 15 seconds to say plenty, and they were both talking about the same subject.

In previous USA vs. Mexico matches, the second half has always started pretty much the same way; the US comes out firing and Mexico takes time to get back into gear. Same thing happened last night, culminating with the US scoring off of a corner kick in the 53rd minute. With the lead, it was now the group holding steady as the collection kept reloading with new players and new attacks. Anchored by a goalkeeper that at times appeared to come out of nowhere to deny shot after shot from the Mexicans, the defense held strong and kept the clean sheet.

Then in the 90th minute, as the Mexican midfield attempted yet another chance to mount an attack, they lost sight of who was where and sent an errant pass into the legs of the referee, in which a former poster child of the USMNT pounced on and showed us all once more the potential and gift that he has. After a burst of speed and a quick maneuver around the on rushing Mexican goalkeeper, the Golden Boy put the ball in the back of the net, giving the US fans an all too familiar score line to chant over and over again, “2-0.”

I think the biggest difference in this match was that it was a group against a collection. The collection of Mexico’s finest professional players (and one out of shape Blanco) was unable to crack a group of US players who have been in camp together for a month (except the 4 Euro based guys). The group of US players was able to work much better together to counter the individual skills of the Mexican team. All of the credit has to go to Bob Bradley. Bradley was able to get everyone to work together, something we rarely saw in Germany last summer.

My main highlights of the game were the performances by Tim Howard, Pablo Mastroeni, Jimmy Conrad, Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein and Landon Donovan. Howard is the US goalkeeper of the future and last night was nothing but a stronger validation of that fact. Even though he was a tad shaky to start the match, once he was able to get into his rhythm, Howard was a brick wall. Everton would be very stupid to not try and sign him away from Manchester United full time.

Pablo “The Destroyer” Mastroeni, wearing the captain’s armband and playing in front of some 60 friends and family, showed a much better use of his abilities and his head. Yes he in the first half he damn hear picked up a red card with a less than smart tackle, but he was able to be the central marshal of the US defense. When needed, especially in the second half, Pablo made the defensive/offensive transition with quick decisions and movement, something some of the other USA players failed to do.

Jimmy Conrad played just about the most complete match I have ever seen him do, in a USA jersey or otherwise. He was a giant in the central defense, he stepped up to help the defensive/offensive transition to bridge the attacks and he was in great position for the first goal. If the stories of Conrad being a target for a Norwegian club are true, I suspect more European clubs will start checking out Kansas City Wizards matches for a chance to sign him away. He was huge.

Carlos Bocanegra was the perfect compliment to Conrad in the central defense. The combined effort of these two guys effectively cut Borgetti down to little more than a spectator in the first half. In the second half, Los continued to marshal the central defense and worked countless times to deny Mexico on its crosses. You can definitely see that the four years at Fulham have molded him into am much better defender.

The one position that was the most unknown was the left back slot, namely MLS youngster Jonathan Bornstein. Bornstein had a good match against Denmark, but how he would do against a team of seasoned first string Mexican players, was unknown. Well, the boy proved that if anyone wants to play left back, they have got to go through him. He played with a reckless abandon that caused problems on the left side for Mexico, much more so than Reading winger Bobby Convey. Bornstein was much more active running up in the attack and was less hesitant when on the ball. This kid will be a star and he showed it last night.

Last but not least, we come to Landon Donovan. Donovan played a much, much better match last night, despite really being played out of position at forward. He made better runs and more of them that had in his last 7 matches for the USA and he looked more dangerous than he has in a very, very, very long time. The defining moment came on his goal. He saw the error and pounced on it and went balls out towards the goal. As he blew past the last remaining defender, he was shouting commands to Eddie Johnson for their attack. He then took care of Sanchez and put the ball in the back of the net. That was the Landon Donovan that we all expected to see in Germany, wanted to see in Germany and god damn it, we needed to see in Germany. When the USA was being pressured by wave after wave of Mexican attacks, he came back into the final third and worked with the defense. When Josh Gros was beaten right after coming on, Donovan was there to cover for him and provide pressure. He played an outstanding match. Let’s please see more of that Landon Donovan in a USA jersey.

I don’t really feel like throwing anyone underneath a bus this time, but some of the guys played less than hoped for. Bobby Convey confused me with his speed and decision making, but I am hoping that those issues are more a result of him just coming back from an injury layoff rather than poor ability. Chris Rolfe, when he actually got into the match, showed that he still has a way to go to move from MLS player to international player. Chris Albright did pretty much the same thing. The Mexican left wingers were abusing Albright all night and not because they were extra special, but because Albright kept giving way too much free ground to the wingers.

Last but not least, I believe that in this match, the “three wise men” of ESPN showed more restraint this match and waited until 59:03 to make their first David Beckham comment. That must have hurt Dave O’Brien to wait that long.



Blogger kebmodee said...

we managed to win despite being outplayed. that is a credit to coaching and mental approach. mexico had more possesion but couldnt make that final killer pass and finish tho borgetti was unlucky on that one glancing header. we ceded the middle of the park all match with no controlling influence a la reyna. mastroeni and clark defended reasonably well but most of their passes were errant. mostly absent, though, clark should get credit for his quick ball to release donovan for his goal. outside defenders were not great in my opinion. bornstein shows promise but he will have to learn to time his runs more carefully. he does have great pace going forward.

4:32 PM  

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