Mexico Falls 2-0 to the U.S. in Columbus, Again

For the 4th consecutive WCQ cycle, the U.S. defeated Mexico 2-0 at Columbus Crew Stadium
by Brendan Doherty   |   Wednesday, September 11, 2013

 MEX Matters - column on Liga MX, El Tri & Mexican futbol.

Before the match started, thousands of U.S. supporters were chanting “dos a cero” throughout Columbus Crew Stadium in what would prove to be an eerie prophecy by the end of the game as the Mexico Men’s National Team fell 2-0 to the United States last night.

Mexico on the front foot

Throughout much of the 1st half, the American defense looked a step behind and often hoped for an offside call rather than tracking the runs of their opponents.

Mexico clearly had the better of possession in the opening minutes of the match. For long periods of time, the U.S. was unable to get out of its own half during the 1st 20 minutes as Mexico engaged in a high pressure system. Jesús Zavala and Fernando Arce particularly closed down the U.S. midfielders well in order to force their opponents into sloppy passes. Mexico's farthest forward players, Chicharito Hernández and Giovani dos Santos, also showed glimpses of their best selves during the 1st half.

Chicharito dropped deep to play quick passes with the midfield in addition to making smart runs through the U.S. defense. Giovani had a quality showing by drawing several fouls in promising positions and playing dangerous balls into the box.

The U.S. gameplan in Columbus was to absorb pressure from Mexico and look for a goal on the counter or from set pieces. That plan came to fruition early in the 2nd half.

Similar to the play from the 1st half, Donovan sent in a right footed corner kick that Eddie Johnson rose to meet. Unlike the earlier one, though, Jesús Corona decided to leave the safety of the goal to venture out and try to meet the corner. Despite not having adequate cover on the goal line and there being a mass of bodies congregated near the penalty spot, the Cruz Azul goalkeeper still thought it was wise to race off his line and join the fray. Johnson's header found the back of the unguarded net and the U.S. undid all of Mexico's hard work from the 1st half to go up 1-0.

The players of El Tricolor seemed stunned by the opening goal and did not react particularly well. Mexico seemed to surrender the midfield to the U.S. after the goal but Tena's team did not remedy the situation with his substitutions. In a move straight out of “Chepo” de la Torre's managerial playbook, Tena replaced attacking hub Chaco Giménez with box-to-box midfielder Héctor Herrera. Giménez was consistently involved in the attack going forward, offering an outlet pass and quality return ball.

Mexico was not clinical with their set piece opportunities as Jesús Zavala met Guardado's corner kick in the 57th minute but the header was a comfortable save for Howard. Despite the need for wide players who could spread out the point of attack, Tena again copied Chepo's failed match management by bringing on forward Oribe Peralta for hard-working central midfielder Fernando Arce.

With th lead in hand, the U.S. was more than content to sit back as Mexico fumbled with a 4-4-2 formation. Both Guardado and dos Santos abandoned their wide positions to cut inside and congest the middle of the field in the attacking third while natural wide played Javier Aquino sat on the bench. Instead of being a target in the area, Chicharito found himself out wide sending in a cross in the 73rd minute. But the confusion didn't stop with Mexico's attacking players.

Hiram Mier is a quality 24 year old center back for Monterrey in Liga MX. He has played a number of other defensive positions in his career but it would be naive to call him a natural right back. As such he often tucked in too narrowly playing full back which provided even more space for Beasley to run into during the second half to relieve the pressure on the U.S. defense. The lack of cohesion among the Mexican players led to Peralta of all players tracking back and fouling Beckerman near the 18-yard box in the 75th minute.

The situation was little remedied by the 77th minute introduction of Angel Reyna. Carlos Salcido left the field and Guardado slipped into the leftback role. Reyna is an attacking midfielder but as a predominantly right footed player is not going to deliver many crosses from the left side of the field. Reyna showed even more aversion to playing wide than Guardado had which further crowded the center of the field in and around the U.S. box.

Just as Mexico was losing any semblance of shape, Donovan capitalized on good play from Mix Diskerud and inexperience from Mier. Diskerud chipped a ball up to himself past Moreno before sending a low pass across the face of goal. Dempsey slid in for the cross and in doing so forced Corona to react to a potential shot at the near post. Mier's lack of international experience allowed Donovan to slip away from his mark and tap his shot into another unguarded net for the Americans' 2nd goal.

There was a play in the 82nd minute that encapsulated the futility of Mexico's attack in the 2nd half. The ball made its way through 5 Mexican players, none of whom wanted to step up and make a play and were simply content to pass the ball backwards or square.

Even in 2nd half stoppage time, Mexico was playing without urgency as if they were the team comfortably ahead. There was no passion shown in the attacking third as players were standing still and unable to break through a cluttered U.S. penalty area. As several players had already given up the fight, Jesús Zavala went in clumsily on Clint Dempsey in the box to give the U.S. a chance to increase their lead from the penalty spot. Whether intentionally or not, Dempsey missed his penalty kick to retain the now almost mythical 2-0 scoreline.

Conclusions from Columbus

After the later game in Honduras against Panama helped the U.S. cause, Klinsmann's men clinched their place in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Mexico's hopes of qualifying for Brazil took a serious blow after the 2 recent matches in the Hexagonal. Two straight losses means that Mexico is now sitting in 5th place out of 6 teams on the outside of even the intercontinental playoff against New Zealand.

The U.S. was not going to play attractive soccer in this match as Mexico piled on pressure in the 1sthalf. Similar to their early second half breakdown at home against Honduras, El Tri did not show the same intensity after the halftime interval in Columbus. Unlike that game in the Azteca, Mexico did not capitalize on their first half dominance with a goal.

Although Chepo de la Torre was no longer on the bench for Mexico, his 3 assistant coaches and his stubborn, often negative, match management tactics were. The way that Mexico has played in 2013 they fully deserve to be on the outside looking in as the final matches of the Hexagonal in October await.

NEXT UP: October 11 – World Cup Qualifier: Mexico vs. Panama, Azteca Stadium, Mexico City, Mexico. 6 p.m. EST, TBD.

Brendan DOHERTY

Nationality:
USA
College:
Hamilton College
Club Domestic:
Rochester Rhinos, RBNY
Club Foreign:
Tottenham, Club América
Household Jeopardy champion from a small town in Upstate New York. Simultaneously brought to Tottenham Hotspur by a youth coach & given a copy of FIFA 2004. Enthusiastically pragmatic & a student of the game. Covering the Mexican National Team & Liga MX.
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