Photo by ISI Photos
The requisite, pre-game photograph of the US team is a microcosm of its performance against Mexico in front of 70k at Reliant Stadium in Houston. Some players look good, some just ok but on the whole the team looks disorganized, uneven, a bit disjointed. New US commentator John Harkes harped on the fact that Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark, the two US center midfielders, are too similar. I think he nailed it. The spacing was never right so Mexico was able to gain a lion’s share of the possession by dropping behind the two or in front. The work rates were there, the tackling was tenacious but the cohesiveness and understanding was lacking. I’m not convinced that the two cannot play together successfully, but they will need some more time to gain a better understanding of how to stagger their spacing. When Feilhaber came in and played more of a creative distributor role and allowed Clark to be the destroyer, US possession improved.
The game was superbly entertaining and there certainly standout moments if not performances. Eighteen year old Jozy Altidore showed the power, pace and finishing ability that has me, and a lot of American soccer fans, excited. Never one to back down from a challenge, he seized the moment and scored an excellent goal and contributed nicely to the American attack. Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra partnered nicely in defense to limit Mexico’s opportunities. While Drew Moor struggled in defending set pieces and was culpable for both goals, his passing was excellent. His pinpoint cross to Altidore on the second US goal was Beckham-esque. Landon Donovan garnered a lot of attention from the Mexicans, but was still able to create a couple of good opportunities and win his side. As effective as Donovan was on the right, Convey and Corrales were ineffective on the left. Often caught forward and never really creating anything dangerous, the Mexicans found out early that their side could be exploited. The good news is that the US has other options. Bornstein and Spector are both injured and both would have been an improvement in the back. If Convey’s form doesn’t improve before Beasley returns from injury I’d like to see Donovan switch over to the left, Dempsey drop into the midfield and have Adu pair Altidore up top. It’s good to have options.
Even without a win, it was a good night for US Soccer. In the next couple months, there should be plenty more good nights as matches are planned with Spain, Norway and a mysterious top five opponent before World Cup qualifying begins in June.