4214_bradleygoal_140402_yang_soccer_us-mex-3 Stephen Yang
Match Report

U.S. Gets Out to Early Lead But Can't Put Away Mexico

The United States dominated the first half and took a two-goal lead, but Mexico stormed back to tie the game after the break. The contest ended in a 2-2 draw, a fair result for an entertaining match.
BY John Godfrey Posted
April 03, 2014
1:31 AM
THE UNITED STATES looked like world beaters for 45 minutes on Wednesday, dominating Mexico throughout the first half and jumping out to a 2-0 lead. But defensive lapses plagued the Americans after intermission, and the friendly at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. ended in a draw.

Michael Bradley led the charge for the Americans, scoring the first goal on a Graham Zusi corner kick and delivering a delightful cross to set up the second goal, a sliding strike by Chris Wondolowski.

But it wouldn't hold up. El Tri burst out of the gates in the second half, scoring two goals and making the American backline look hapless at times. After the game, Bradley discussed the United States' poor showing in the second half.

"Giving up an early goal doesn't help," he said. "We know Mexico, and when they get a little confidence and the crowd gets into it, they become a good team. I'm certainly not happy with that, but all in all I think it was still a really good night." Jurgen Klinsmann made news twice before the night got underway. First, he left Landon Donovan out of the starting lineup—a bold and curious choice considering Donovan's long history against El Tri, and because this match provided Klinsmann a chance to start Donovan alongside fellow veterans Clint Dempsey and Bradley.

Also noteworthy, Klinsmann sent his troops out in a 4-4-2 formation, a departure from the single-striker 4-2-3-1 setup that Klinsmann typically utilizes. With Dempsey starting alongside Wondolowski at forward, it could signal a change in strategy for the U.S. Given the fact that Klinsmann brought in Berti Vogts to replace former assistant Martin Vasquez, it's entirely possible that tactical changes are afoot within the U.S. national team.

Despite these decisions, or perhaps because of them, the game got off to a slow start. Absolutely nothing happened in the opening moments of the match, as both teams booted the ball around in the midfield for the first 13 minutes or so.


But then, in the 14th minute, the U.S. won a free kick in a dangerous spot a few yards outside the penalty area. Left-footed Brad Davis sent in a curling ball that Omar Gonzalez tried to power into the back of the net, but the six-foot-five American could only graze the ball into touch.

On the ensuing corner kick, however, the U.S. showed some clever maneuvering. With a gaggle of attackers crowding around Mexican goalkeeper Moisés Muñoz, Zusi sent in a long cross that caught Bradley in stride. The American talisman beat Jesús Zavala to the ball from two yards out and guided a half-volley into the net to give the U.S. an early lead.

Another quick-passing exchange a few minutes later nearly led to another U.S. goal, but an El Tri defender blocked Clint Dempsey's strike from 15 yards out.

In the 28th minute the U.S. doubled its lead. It started when right back Tony Beltran sent in a cross from the right flank that Bradley nodded toward the far post. Wondolowski, the Americans' primary poacher, slid and stuck out his right foot to push it into goal.

Less than a half-hour in, the Yanks were up dos a cero.

The Mexican squad seemed dispirited at this point, and the Americans nearly went up 3-0 in the 33rd minute when Wondolowski delivered a lovely cross from the right corner that Munoz parried away just in time. If not for that save, Dempsey was charging forward and ready to head it into goal.

The United States went into the locker room at halftime leading 2-0 and in possession of all of the momentum.

But it didn't last.

El Tri came out of the break with urgency—and a second striker—and created multiple chances before many fans were back from the concession stand. In the 50th minute, Mexico crafted a clever pick play, freeing up Marquez on a corner kick while Gonzalez and Kyle Beckerman were nudged out of the play. Marquez made no mistake and buried his header, cutting the lead to 2-1.

Mexico nearly scored again a few minutes later, but U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando sprawled to push a shot over the crossbar to keep the Americans in front.

With Mexico controlling the second half, Klinsmann made three substitutions at the 58-minute mark, bringing on Donovan, Clarence Goodson, and 18-year-old starlet Julian Green. It didn't help.

In the 67th minute Mexico struck again. Paul Aguilar received the ball in the box and delivered a right-footed shot that beat a diving Rimando but caromed off the crossbar. Gonzalez was the closest defender and the likeliest candidate to clear the ball, but Mexico's Alan Pulido beat the six-foot-five American and put the rebound away.

Tie game. A clean slate. And Mexico, dominant in possession throughout the half, looked much more likely to score than the U.S.

The game eventually leveled off around the 70th minute, with both sides pushing forward and swapping possession.

Six minutes from regulation, it appeared as though the U.S. won the game. An increasingly determined Dempsey spotted sub Eddie Johnson making a clever run in the box, delivered a perfect pass to his friend, and Johnson smoothly slotted the ball into the far corner. It was a lovely goal and a great moment of redemption for a struggling American side.

Unfortunately for Klinsmann's team, it didn't count. The assistant referee called Johnson offside—incorrectly, replays showed—and the game remained tied 2-2.

And that's how it ended. The United States showed encouraging offensive ingenuity and put on a great 45-minute performance. But defensive woes plagued the Americans in the second half, which will no doubt raise questions about personnel choices in advance of the World Cup in Brazil.

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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