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USA v Mexico match report & player ratings

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

On the day when US Soccer officially entered the Jurgen Klinsmann era, it was fitting that within a 90 minute match, the quality of play on either side of halftime served to contrast a past system that lacked creativity with a new future of bright, attacking soccer. When the starting lineups were announced and four recognized central midfielders were included in the starting XI, it was hard not to be a little confused. Klinsmann would truly be a genius if he could use Bob Bradley’s own team and system and somehow make it function. Yet through the first forty-five minutes, the lethargic, drab midfield provided their new manager with all the firsthand proof of just how far they’d fallen in comparison with their quick-passing, well organized rivals from Mexico.

With Michael Bradley shoehorned into the attacking midfield role in front of Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman, the center of the pitch became a wasteland of errant passes, missed tackles and ball watching. Neither Landon Donovan or Jose Torres were seeing enough of the ball and despite working hard to put a head to every ball that came his way, Edson Buddle was completely isolated from his teammates, often holding up the ball only to find that he was the only player wearing a red shirt on the Mexican side of the halfway line. Without a link through Jones or Beckerman, the defense, despite trying to keep the ball on the deck, was forced to eschew the midfield option in favor of hopeful long balls to Buddle.

Still, for all of their superior possession and territorial advantage, Mexico struggled to carve out clear cut chances with both Javier Hernandez and Aldo de Nigris sorely missing from the attack. Despite a nervy start, the US defense, featuring Philadelphia favorite Michael Orozco Fiscal paired with captain Carlos Bocanegra in the middle of the park, grew into the game, keeping Mexico to the wings and winning the aerial challenges in the box.

Lucky Goal

In the 16th minute, a fine display of Mexican passing saw Beckerman and Castillo chasing shadows on the left wing, allowing Mexico behind them too easily, only for Bocanegra to intervene, sliding the ball behind for a corner. But it was this corner that led to the Mexican breakthrough. With the inability of Castillo to close down the short corner at fault far more than Michael Bradley’s man marking of Oribe Peralta—who managed to get a deft, and frankly lucky, touch to nestle the ball beyond a surprised Howard, who could do little more than shake his head. Bradley had Peralta locked up tightly, only to see the Mexican striker reach a toe out for the unlikeliest of finishes. Given the tendency of the US to be sparked into life, there was hope of a swift reply, but the personnel simply did not allow for it as the US managed to maintain possession only when methodically passing the pall backwards towards their own goal.

Youth, Width & Speed

With his team devoid of ideas and playmakers, Klinsmann was forced to bring the changes in the 60th minute when he introduced Brek Shea and Juan Agudelo. Unlike the starters, who failed to use the width of the field, rarely troubling the Mexican defense, Shea drove the left wing while Agudelo popped up early on the right, stretching Mexico as they looked to cope. The further introduction of Robbie Rogers allowed Landon Donovan to drift centrally, where the US benefited from the width and pace of Shea and Rogers against Mexican outside backs Efrain Juarez and Carlos Salcido. Be it his superior conditioning or finally playing in a more comfortable space on the field, Donovan found an extra gear and began to beat players on the dribble the way Klinsmann would have hoped he would do in the first half.

A tidy equalizer

It all came from a US throw deep on the left wing, with Agudelo’s smart run to the corner allowing him to cut back a first-time ball to Shea. The FC Dallas man cut against the grain of the Mexican defense and his charging run into the box allowed him to square his pass across the face of the goal for Robbie Rogers, still essentially jogging onto the field having just come on for Michael Bradley, to tuck home with ease.

It was a just reward for the US who had been deprived what appeared to be a clear penalty a minute earlier when Agudelo pushed his touch into the box only to be scythed down in the area. Jamaican referee Raymond Bogle, whose passive approach to the match nearly saw it get out of hand, somehow remained unmoved by the incident.

With the US searching for a winner in the 86th minute, Shea’s clearing header found Agudelo who, following a neat, controlling touch with his head, lofted an inch perfect ball to Rogers. Rogers burst past Gerardo Torrado and would have been clear in on goal had Torrado not put in a tackle that was more fitting of the Eagles game to be played on Thursday at Lincoln Financial Field. Torrado was the last man and had denied a clear goal-scoring opportunity, yet Bogle again bungled the call, with Torrado only seeing yellow for his indiscretion.

Good result to build on

When the final whistle sounded, 1-1 was probably a fair result and, given the shift in tactics and introduction of substitutions in the second half, there is cause for optimism in the US camp. Klinsmann received a good education in the best and worst of US soccer on the night, with a stagnant midfield forcing his hand, as the new coach was required to reconstruct the team during the match. In Brek Shea, Juan Agudelo and the surprising Robbie Rogers, the Americans did show that they have the pace, ability and self-belief to run with Mexico, even if the team needs fine-tuning to become consistent. But with one of world soccer’s most prolific strikers at the helm, the US team can look forward to advancing its game into a more creative, attacking model when they take the field against Costa Rica and Belgium in the next month.

Player Ratings

Tim Howard-6

On a night where Mexico failed to show polish in front of goal, Howard’s mouth was more important than his hands with Michael Orozco Fiscal and Edgar Castillo both earning their second caps. There was nothing Howard could do on Peralta’s flicked goal, and despite the amount of possession conceded, the US number one was rarely troubled.

Steve Cherundolo-7

With Guardado and Barrera attacking his wing, the US were fortunate to have Cherundolo’s veteran presence out wide. As always, Cherundolo was solid without being flashy and had more success passing out of the back than opposite outside back Castillo.

Michael Orozco Fiscal-6

While nerves got the better of the San Luis defender for the first ten minutes of his second international fixture, Orozco Fiscal settled well and found the pace of the game. Not only does he have the speed required to compete against the likes of Barrera, Guardado and Dos Santos, but playing in Mexico, his skill set is more tailored to a passing/possession style of game. That said, he was forced to hack clear on more occasions than he or his new coach would like to see, though that was more a function of the midfield collapsing in front of him. With Clarence Goodson, Tim Ream and others unavailable for Wednesday’s match, it is questionable whether Orozco will see time in a fully fit US squad.

Carlos Bocanegra-7

Bocanegra retained the captain’s armband in Klinsmann’s first game, but the veteran defender struggled with the pace of Mexico, failing on a couple of occasions to track players who drifted inside from his wing. Yet, with inexperience on either side of him, he was the glue that held the US together and his unflappability gave confidence to the backline around him. Additionally, he showed off his attacking prowess, forcing an excellent reaction save from Ochoa with a powerful header in the second half as the United States built towards an equalizer. Having to look after the over-matched Castillo added additional work to his task.

Edgar Castillo-4

The game was just too fast for Castillo on Wednesday night as he struggled to hold his position against the clever Mexican attack. While he was rarely beaten, Castillo gave attackers too much space and it was his inability to close down the short corner that resulted in Mexico’s goal. Additionally, in a team that was instructed to pass out of the back, Castillo’s habit of clearing punts directly to the opposition will not be looked at favorably when reviewed on film. Given the weakness of this position in US Soccer, he can build on this, and will likely be given the opportunity to do so.

Kyle Beckerman-5.5

Much was made of Beckerman’s play in Klinsman’s press conference, yet despite playing a full 90 minutes in a game that saw Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones lifted, Beckerman struggled with the pace of the game. Going forward, any US midfielder selected must rely on more than just ball winning to stay in the team and when the US was in possession, Beckerman looked lost, failing to build adequate space between himself and his teammates. While his hard work around the defensive third will earn him future call ups under Klinsman, he is not a long term solution for the US.

Jermaine Jones-5

Looked out of sorts from the get go, as his passing lacked accuracy and he simply did not get around the park as well as fans are used to seeing. It’s hard to be invisible in the middle of a soccer field, but Jones was just that. With Michael Bradley dropping deep to get the ball and Beckerman doing the dirty work at his side, Jones’ never found or created his own space and was rightly brought off after 60 anonymous minutes.

Michael Bradley-6

Deployed higher up the pitch in the attacking center midfield role, Bradley lacked the creativity and explosiveness going forward that would have justified his selection in that position. Still did the basics that make him a strong player, running hard, tracking back and showing well for the ball, but did all of those things in his own half. When he ventured across the midfield stripe he lost his nerve and did little to combine with Buddle or his wings. With Donovan, Adu or hopefully Stuart Holden playing above him, Bradley is much better suited to play the deeper role that Kyle Beckerman occupied on the night.

Jose Torres-5

The US still have not figured out what to do with Torres, though kudos to Klinsmann for knowing that he needs to find a place for him in the side. Clearly not comfortable on the wing in the first half, Torres and Castillo never saw eye to eye and the build up from the left side struggled. With the ball at his feet, Torres’ tendency is to return to the center of the field. Yet against Mexico that meant moving towards three of his teammates who already occupied that space. When second half subs brought him into a more holding role, he looked more comfortable playing behind Landon Donovan as he could distribute from deep, which is his preference.

Landon Donovan-6

This is a score averaging a first half 4 with a second half 8. Playing wide on the right, Donovan looked sluggish and disinterested and, like Torres, turned too many balls into the middle of the pitch where the most traffic awaited. With Shea and Rogers out wide in the second half, and Mexico forced to defend the entire width of the pitch, Donovan came to life, carving through the Mexican midfield and creating chances where previously there had been none. With Jose Torres behind him possessing the ability to be the midfield distributor, Donovan’s role became more that of a withdrawn striker than a midfield playmaker as he surged forward looking first for the equalizer and later the winner.

Edson Buddle-6

Buddle worked his socks off and won nearly every ball the came his way, but was working in complete isolation all night. With Michael Bradley out of his element in the attack and neither Donovan or Torres pouring forward on the wing, Buddle’s strong hold up play was wasted and after 60 minutes of fighting the two Mexican centerbacks by himself, he was rightfully exhausted. Buddle deserves further chances to play with the likes of Shea, Agudelo and Donovan as he remains a powerful force in the air and would likely pull one or two defenders himself, creating space for his teammates.

Brek Shea-8

Shea showed off both his power, speed and technique in the buildup to the US goal as he burst into the box and beat his defender to the endline before deftly squaring across the face of the onrushing Robbie Rogers to tap home. There is no question that Shea deserves to see time as the starting left sided midfielder going forward because he has the full set of skills and plays with a confident swagger of a player who is ready to make it on the big stage.

Juan Agudelo-6.5

Showed a soft first touch that had been lacking in previous performance and a continued willingness to attack the Mexican defense. Agudelo still needs to learn to turn his positive play into scoring chances, as he tried on too many occasions to beat a defender off the dribble when a quick shot or pass in behind to an onrushing Shea or Rogers would have presented better opportunities. That ruthlessness will come with experience, yet few American players look as dangerous as Agudelo whenever they get on the ball. The US goal was made by Agudelo’s smart run to the corner where he cut a deep throw back to Shea.

Robbie Rogers-6.5

Entered the match just in time to score the easiest of goals, then continued to put in his best shift for the National Team. It was his searing pace in the 86th minute that should have seen Torrado sent off when he was beaten by the speedy US winger. With the US lacking for true wing options, Rogers will continue to get looks by the US. If he continues to provide smart link up play and chase in behind defenses, he could become a fixture.

Ricardo Clark-N/A

Entering in the 84th minute, Clark played his first match for the US since he was stripped of the ball leading to Ghana’s first goal in the second round of the 2010 World Cup. With the US on the front foot when he entered for Torres, he had little to do. He did have a chance in front of goal, which he blazed extremely wide from about 20.


  1. I like Torres centrally. He is ironically very much like our Torres I think. If Klinsmann can find a central spot for him Torres can be a great distributor and calming presence on the ball.

  2. Its funny seeing two different perpectives on the game…the mls guy gave Bocanegra a 5 but you saw something completely different with an 7…I think that if he scores he gets a 7 but otherwise he hardly deserves a 7. Also how can you give Donavan and Buddle a 6? Did they both have the same impact on the game? Donavan was clearly the best player on the pitch last night over 90 mins.

    • There was a lot of differing opinions on Bocanegra. The reason I gave him the bump was due to the inexperienced players around him. Plenty of other writers scored Bocanegra similarly. His speed remains a problem, but in all honesty, Mexico created havoc in the midfield and the corners, not in the center of the pitch.

      As far as Donovan/Buddle, a 6 may be generous for Buddle, but the amount of crap he’s been taking for his performance is unfair. He worked his tail off and won everything that came near him. The fact that Bradley is not an attacking player and Torres and Donovan were MIA in the first action is out of his control. I truly believe that Agudelo should not be starting for the national team as he should be brought on slowly without constant expectation resting on him. Buddle will have a part in filling out some of those minutes for the next couple years.

      • I agree with your assessment of Aguedelo but I really hope that we find a better option other than Buddle or Altidore as our striker…Im not high on Bocanegra at all, as you said he is slow…

  3. Bocanegra was great last night, have to agree with Eli. He really did well to keep the defense together. I personally thought Torres was absolutely awful, giving the ball away far too much. I greatly would prefer Stu Holden and even Adu, who was excellent against Mexico in the Gold Cup final. In the future, I’d like to see that same 4-1-4-1 formation with shea, adu, holden, and donovan and dempsey up top to truly get some creative play.

  4. Geoff Long says:

    I disagree about Beckerman. I think he was the biggest difference in the game defensively for the US. While he might not be the fastest or most creative, he makes tackles and plays tough in the midfield. Mexico looked unsettled when you physically pressured them. While Beckerman might not be the answer every game, if you are playing a team that is fast through the center midfield, he at least stops the opposition from turning the game into a track meet.

    • Beckerman was solid and did exactly what he was put on the pitch to do. He does a lot of the dirty work that most people don’t see on camera and is easily overlooked. Not to mention he has a phenomenal work ethic.


    Union to sign Freddy Adu.

    NOT as a DP either!!!

    I love it!

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