Thoughts on Mexico 1-0 U.S U-23's; plus a look to Sunday's semifinal
March 25, 2021
THE UNITED STATES U-23 national team fell to Mexico in Guadalajara by a score of 1-0 to finish second in Group A. That sets up a semifinal matchup on Sunday against the Group B champion which will be either Canada or Honduras.
In this game, head coach Jason Kreis made a bunch of changes to his starting lineup. He opted not to start Justen Glad and Jesus Ferreira – who were both on yellow cards. He also rested key veterans Sam Vines, captain Jackson Yueill, and Jonathan Lewis.
The way the game played out was unsurprising. The U.S. team struggled to create chances and was done in by a mistake that was derived from the team’s insistence to either dribble or pass the ball out of dangerous positions. In this case, just before halftime, striker Sebastian Soto drifted back into the midfield. While right back Julian Araujo was open, Soto tried to pass the ball to his central defenders but instead hit it to Uriel Antuna who beat David Ochoa with a well-placed shot.
The second half played out similarly to the first half. The U.S. started to fade and Kreis went with a bunch of substitutions but that yielded no dangerous chances. The 1-0 result left Mexico as the Group A winners and in their semifinal, they could face any of the four teams remaining in Group B – depending on Thursday’s results.
Here are my thoughts on the game.
No margin for error with this team
Anyone who is following this team can tell you that they struggle to create scoring chances. From the team Kreis was taking in 2020 to now, all of the creative midfielders in Richard Ledezma, Paxton Pomykal, and Brenden Aaronson are no longer available (the first two due to injury and Aaronson due to his sale to Salzburg). Most of the group of players who are available in these positions and could be released are still perhaps too young for this tournament – players such Cole Bassett, Gianluca Busio, Caden Clark, etc.
The midfielders that Kreis brought to Mexico predominantly play in deeper, more withdrawn roles for their clubs – Johnny Cardoso, Jackson Yueill, Andres Perea, Hassani Dotson, Tanner Tanner Tessmann. Now with Djordje Mihailovic playing out wide, there is a lack of true playmaker.
This team was never expected to score a lot of goals – and that has kind of played out. For this team to win, its defense has to hold tight and the team has to take advantage of a limited number of chances.
What you’re left with is a team with little to no margin for error. Mistakes, such as Soto’s bad pass, become more costly. Misses on good chances have a greater likelihood of costing the team.
Heading into Sunday, the team is in a position where it simply cannot make mistakes and it has to be clinical offensively.
Defense was strong
The good news for the U.S. team is that the defense is improving throughout this tournament. Mexico dictated the pace of the game, but aside from the chance they were gifted on the mistake, there weren’t many dangerous chances for El Tri.
The number of dangerous opportunities Mexico had was fewer than the number of dangerous chances Costa Rica had in the opening game. In that sense the U.S. team is improving.
First of all, the defensive midfielders for the U.S. team are improving as the tournament goes a long. Andres Perea still lacks offensive bite but his 1v1 defending has been sharp. Cardoso and Dotson have also been solid defensively.
The U.S. team’s central defense of Maurico Pineda and Henry Kessler were excellent against Mexico. It was presumed that this would be a weakness for the team after Kreis decided to rest Justen Glad but that was not the case. Pineda struggled mightily against Costa Rica and was benched against the Dominican Republic. He rebounded with a very solid performance against Mexico – including a first-half tackle in the box that was one of the best moments of the game for the United States.
The player who has surprised the most in this tournament has been Hassani Dotson. His two goals against the Domincan Republic were both quality strikes, but Dotson has done well in other areas. While normally defensive, he has done well winning balls, advancing the ball into the attack, and bringing energy into the game.
His inclusion into the final roster was surprising but, in the end, the right call made by Kreis.
Dotson has gone up and down in his career with Minnesota. This season it will be important for him to play with consistency where he can make regular positive contributions for his team on a weekly basis.
The toughest matchup for the United States would be Honduras on Sunday. That team is playing well offensively and has historically given the United States problems at the youth levels. Should Honduras win or draw against Canada on Thursday, it will be the Group B winner.
Coming into this tournament, Kreis was dealt a tough hand in terms of preparation. His team had no friendlies and most of the players were in early preseason form. But now, Kreis has had three games to evaluate his players ahead of the most important game that will solely decide if it qualifies for the Olympics in Tokyo.
The three games provided Kreis with a lot of information and left him with numerous decisions all over the field.
Right back: Julian Araujo was turned a few times against Mexico while Aaron Herrera was pretty steady at left back. Assuming Sam Vines returns to left back on Sunday, will it be the veteran Herrera or the promising youngster in Julian Araujo? This is close, but it probably will be Herrera.
Central defense: This is the most open questions right now and Kreis might not even know the answer. Glad did not play against Mexico to avoid him picking up a yellow card. Meanwhile, Kessler and Pineda were both strong against Mexico. On Sunday, it will either be Glad starting with Pineda or Kessler; or it will be keeping Kessler and Pineda together. It seems likely that Glad will start since he has a lot of experience. Kessler seems most likely to be the other starter but nothing would be surprising.
Central midfield: Yueill is the team captain and is almost surely going to start. In a 4-3-3 formation, it remains to be seen who the other two midfielders will be along with Cardoso, Mihailovic, Perea, and Dotson (with the strong possibility Mihailovic plays out wide, at least to start). Given Dotson’s performance, he seems to have earned this opportunity. Perea has done well defensively and having him in the lineup pushes Yueill further up the field. Perea-Yueill-Dotson seems most likely with Mihailovic out wide.
Wings: In this tournament, we have seen Mihailovic, Lewis, Saucedo, and Benji Michel all play on the wings. The team hasn’t been consistently effective from these wide areas. Mihailovic has been pretty good out wide and can always shift centrally during the game. Starting Lewis or Saucedo is a close call but Lewis probably has been favored.
Starting lineup in the semifinal: It can go a lot of different ways but looking at the three games from the group stage and how Kreis has made decisions so far, here is my predicted lineup in a 4-3-3 formation:
Starting XI: Ochoa; Herrera, Glad, Kessler, Vines; Perea, Yueill, Dotson; Mihailovic, Ferreira, Lewis