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World Cup Qualifying recap: Mexico 1–1 USMNT

The U.S. earned a vital and hard-fought point in Mexico City on Sunday night, drawing 1–1 with Mexico. Michael Bradley opened the scoring with a goal for the ages, before Carlos Vela evened things up fifteen minutes later.

First half

Bruce Arena made some somewhat unexpected changes to his lineup, with starts for Brad Guzan, Omar Gonzalez, Tim Ream, DaMarcus Beasley, Kellyn Acosta, and Bobby Wood, perhaps indicating just how much he valued Thursday’s game over this one. Still, the U.S. 11 was solid, if conservative, with a five-man back line. Such things are sometimes called for in Azteca.

But the game had barely begun before something truly special happened. In the 6th minute, Bradley burst through the center circle to intercept a lazy square ball. His first touch took him through the first line of defense, and as he sprinted to catch up to the ball, he eyed Mexico’s keeper Guillermo Ochoa too far off his line. Bradley needed no second invitation, and with his next touch hit an audacious, driven chip over the keeper and into the goal, from 40 yards away. That’s one he will never forget.

Playing defense for 84 minutes plus stoppage time was never in the cards, and both teams were positive, pushing forward with speed whenever possible, with chances for each side, especially from set pieces. Unfortunately, it would be following a U.S. set piece that Mexico would equalize. A U.S. corner bounced and bounced in the box, with Bobby Wood just the closest of several U.S. players with a chance to put the ball away, but his shot was blocked and Mexico broke the other way. The U.S.’s transition defense was actually not completely awful, with numbers back, but the ball found Vela on the U.S. left. He cut inside with DaMarcus Beasley for company, but rode DB’s weak challenge with ease, and then placed a hard, low shot inside Brad Guzan’s near post through two U.S. defenders’ lunging legs.

After the goal, the game settled into a more expected pattern, with Mexico the primary attacking force and the U.S. looking to counter, giving up more fouls while trying to stay aggressive defensively. The pattern held until halftime, with no further goals.

Second half

The second half was a bit limp, compared to the first, with the U.S. doing a better job of killing Mexico attacks before they got close to goal. Arriola earned a yellow card for a professional foul in the center circle in the 56th minute. Presumably, Arena had made his feelings about Mexico’s goal crystal clear at halftime.

The downside, of course, is that fouls give up free kicks, and it nearly bit the U.S. after 71 minutes. Bradley sent Vela tumbling some thirty yards out on the U.S. center-right. Hector Herrera stepped up and smacked a laser beam straight into the crossbar, rattling both the woodwork and U.S. fans’ constitutions.

The U.S. would have Mexican hearts in mouths just a few minutes later, however, and again it was Bradley. Receiving a simple centering pass from Acosta some thirty yards out, he ripped a shot that beat Ochoa but pinged off the outside of the post.

Mexico had a handful of chances after that, but none that troubled Guzan. The U.S. mustered one or two efforts, as well, but no more goals were scored, and the U.S. left Mexico with a draw.

U.S. verdict

The lineup was underwhelming, but with a little assist from a Bradley golazo, it earned just the third-ever point at Azteca in World Cup Qualifying play for the U.S. That is a point to savor. Yes, Mexico dominated possession, as would be expected, but the U.S. held Mexico to just one shot on goal (and had two). It’s disappointing to have your one real mistake punished, but that’s life when you play Mexico away. No matter how you slice it, the U.S. goes home a whole lot happier with that game than Mexico does, and four points from these two qualifiers is exactly what the team needed.

Final thoughts

So far, all we can say is that the Bruce Arena 2.0 era is off to one heck of a start. He’s made the right calls and his players are performing at a high level. One wonders, however, what might have been had Christian Pulisic arrived on the scene two years ago. This Pulisic playing for Jurgen Klinsmann probably keeps him in the job. But that’s just make believe. Right now, all that matters is the U.S.’s Qualifying campaign is back on track.

11 Comments

  1. el Pachyderm says:

    at one point the US team had less than 30% possession according to Twitter…. and I know the Bradley strike was sensational and helped secure the point but the team needed more from him… he did almost nothing to control the game.

    • I hated the loss of possession as much as you, but this play was mandated. Bradley was doing the job given to him. We can argue how smart that was, but Bradley did not have a bad game.

    • Zizouisgod says:

      Mexico – 74% possession, one shot on goal.

      Bradley and the rest of the side did their job well. Would have loved to see better possession numbers, but the way that the US slowed the game down after the 56th min and saw the result out was impressive.

      Internationals are solely about results and sometimes you have to be pragmatic about what your immediate goal is. Club play is different, the players are together more so you should aspire to a more aesthetically pleasing style of play.

      • Just Woke Up says:

        Completely agree with you on this. Possession is not nearly as as important statistic as chances on goal. Bradley and the US as a whole did well in one of the most difficult places to play in the world.

  2. Andy Muenz says:

    Wonder what the result would have been if the ref or linesman had seen the early elbow and given the early red card to Mexico? Still, even if they drop to 4th after Tuesday, they should be in reasonable shape since everyone else still has to play Mexico and Costa Rica and Panama both play in the US.

  3. The lineup left a lot to be desired as well as the game plan, but that was understandable at least. I didn’t love any of it, but it’s hard to argue with the 4 points.
    .
    Ream and Gonzalez both had solid games, but Beasley looks cooked. I was underwhelmed by Acosta after being excited to see him play. Arriola held up better than i thought as well. All in all a successful week.

  4. The Truth says:

    I liked the lineup overall, especially the 5 in the back. Beasley is an American hero. Nagbe wasn’t the right sub. Happy with the points.

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