USMNT Report: US Draws a Point at Azteca

With an inexperienced and youthful backline, the Americans stopped Mexico in its home stadium
by Herb Scribner   |   Wednesday, March 27, 2013

USMNT Report - coverage of the United States Men's National Team

What a week for the United States Men’s National Team.

Starting off with a controversial article that put the team on its toes, the US responded with a 1-0 wintry win in Denver. And then, last night, in the sweatbox that is Estadio Azteca, the Americans escaped with a point in a 0-0 draw with El Tri.

MEXICO HIGHLIGHTS: What started as a back-and-forth contest between the two neighboring rivals soon segued into an offensive onslaught by Mexico. It wasn’t long before the US’ backline, which was inexperienced and one of the weak spots of this lineup going in, was being bombarded with Mexican attempts, mostly through the left and middle where defenders DaMarcus Beasley and Matt Besler, who both had yellow cards, were positioned.

Aquino attacked very well through the game, including a chance right after the half that was deflected out by Besler. Another deflection came in the 72nd minute when dos Santos’ attempt was headed away by a streaking Graham Zusi, who came soaring in after running more than 30 yards from the midfield to the backline.

Not long after, Aquino was pushed down in the box by defensive midfielder Maurice Edu. El Tri begged for a penalty, but it was to no avail. Edu’s shove came after he flicked the ball out to give La Verde yet another cornerkick.

The 15 cornerkicks on the night gave El Tri multiple chances, including some in the final 20 minutes of the match, which tested US goalkeeper Brad Guzan to make some defensive stops. One of the bigger chances came when Reyna booted a shot inwards that the veteran goalkeeper punched away for another corner. And that corner, too, was a wasted effort as it went well wide of the goal. Neither team could find a way to break through, though, and the game ended at 0-0.

POST-GAME REACTIONS: After the game, Michael Bradley spoke to US Soccer and discussed the importance of the US’ mentality going forward.

“I think we, as a group, we understood what the game was about we knew how to deal with different parts of the game,” Bradley said. “In the end, the mentality the commitment and the determination on a night like this carry you through.”

“I said after Honduras that it’s important through these 10 games to keep a good solid frame of mind,” he said. “To not get too down after games don’t go exactly the way you want and to not get too high after good results. So I think we’ve done a good job of that so far and that’s going to be more important as we move into the summer and then the fall."

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan praised the defensive line for keeping Mexico in check.

“We knew they were going to come out flying and that they’re going to a have the fans behind them,” he said. “And I think after 20 minutes the guys in front of me did a really good job of stopping their rhythm to the game. In turn, we kept the ball, we passed the ball. Maybe (didn’t) create chances, but at the same time, keeping the ball kept them off the ball and I think that was important.”

Guzan, like Bradley, doesn’t think the Americans will get too far ahead of themselves with the draw.

“It’s good, exciting and we’ll enjoy it,” Guzan said. “But we still have a lot of games left. … We knew there are more new games in the Hex.”

Dempsey said all that mattered was earning a point.

“We just had to grind out a result,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty. Four points puts us at a good position in the table and hopefully we can build upon that. … At the end of the day, the point is to get a result here."

ANALYSIS: Coming out of 2 games – one of which was in one of the most fortified stadiums in the world, and the other in a wicked winter storm – with 4 points is no easy feat. But the US achieved such an accomplishment, and continue to have success under Klinsmann.

Call his methods unorthodox, but Klinsmann’s US side is winning and making history. Last August, the Americans won for the first time at Azteca and on Mexican soil. And last night, Klinsmann’s squad drew a point in a World Cup Qualifier for only the second time ever.

I give a lot of the credit from last night’s draw to the backline, as it consistently held off Mexico’s myriad of chances. Guzan made saves – his biggest coming in stoppage time – but wasn’t nearly as crucial as the US defenders were. Unlike when he’s in net for Aston Villa, Guzan had an aware and capable defense to help him stay poised between the posts.

Both Besler and Omar Gonzalez were solid in the center. Besler, who got his first start for the US in only his second international cap, held off the Mexican offense with deflections and appeared comfortable in that spot. He, along with Gonzalez, who also gelled in nicely with this side, made the usually-threatening Giovani dos Santos disappear throughout the majority of the match.

Even Beasley, who had to be careful with his early yellow card, showed determination against El Tri. The left side was exposed by Aquino and the attacking Mexicans, but Beasley held well and didn’t find himself in too many precarious positions. He looked uncomfortable at points, as he isn’t typically a left back and he was playing with a caution already, but he made some runs up the left wing to provide offense and didn’t stop his pace through the 90 minutes.

Edu, playing the defensive midfield role for Jermaine Jones, who was out because of yellow card accumulation, also made runs from the back when he should have been making clearances and giving the US some breathing room. Compared to Michael Bradley, who was composed and cool with the ball nearly every time he had it, Edu came off as mediocre and squandered opportunities to keep the ball with the US.

Defensive efforts came from all over pitch. Zusi made an incredible run from 30 yards out to the head off an El Tri opportunity that surely would have found netting, or least tested Guzan.

Zusi, like Gonzalez and Besler, settled in nicely at his position and felt comfortable enough to run back and aid the backline. He struggled early to get touches on the offensive side of the ball, which is what he’s meant to do. If this team goes forth without Landon Donovan, Zusi needs to do better in setting up plays on the wing and getting the offense some services

Even though the US had a 55% possession advantage, the team didn’t have big enough chances to warrant much praise. Dempsey, Altidore and Herculez Gomez were extremely quiet in the first half, with Altidore failing to produce on his two early chances. He was subbed out in the second half for Eddie Johnson – a peculiar move for Klinsmann, since Altidore didn’t have the set ups to make his case.

Klinsmann continued to throw punches when he subbed in Brek Shea and Brad Davis, who are both MLS players with a keen eye for offense, instead of taking out the worn down and timid Beasley. None of the three subs provided anything significant, save for a free kick opportunity – and a very late foul – by Davis.

One of the more impressive facts about the US team was that it was comprised of players who, at one point or another, played in MLS. Shea, Davis and Johnson – the three substitutes – are all currently playing the States. This surely says something about the American league and how well its producing players. With time and exposure to other leagues and competitions in the world, these former and current MLS players brought the US much-needed success.

Now, the US sits at third place in the CONCACAF WCQ standings behind Panama and Honduras. Mexico, surprisingly, is in fifth, meaning if the Hexagonal qualifiers ended today, El Tri would be spending its 2014 summer in Mexico instead of Brazil. Before these recent games, many fans would have been happy with just a win against Costa Rica. But with an added draw against Mexico, the Americans have a tad more breathing room than they might have anticipated.

Before qualifying picks up again in June, the Yanks will test themselves in friendlies against Belgium and Germany, both of which will be on American soil. Klinsmann will have a chance to answer some more questions about which players in this lineup can go toe-to-toe with European powers, and who is really ready for the World Cup.

NEXT UP: May 29 – USA vs. Belgium, FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, Ohio. 8 p.m. EST, ESPN2, UniMas.


UMass Amherst
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SN managing editor and award-winning journalist, Herb has always been known as "The Soccer Guy" wherever he goes. He's a leftback in most outdoor and indoor leagues. He also writes for Deseret News National.