REUTERS/Henry Romero (MEXICO SPORT SOCCER)
Rivalry games are rarely pretty. Yesterday was no exception: the US defended for the better part of 90 minutes and ended up paying for it when it surrendered the go-ahead goal in the 83rd minute after a defensive breakdown and a lucky bounce. I hoped for better after such a bright start. A quick passing sequence, from Michael Bradley to Landon Donovan to Charlie Davies, led to a goal inside 10 minutes. Unfortunately we were only able to hold the lead for 10 minutes. Besides Panamanian referee Roberto Moreno, the most disappointing performances on the day came from Carlos Bocanegra and Clint Dempsey, the occupants of the left side of the US defense where both goals came from.
The first goal for Mexico was a spectacular 25 yard shot. The ball flew over Tim Howard and then dipped under the crossbar. For me, the play started when Moreno didn’t call a clear foul on Mexico which allowed Mexico to unbalance the Americans. If you don’t believe me, go to the video (the foul is at 1:20). Israel Castro clearly grabs Donovan as Donovan dribbles past him. Then Donovan is possibly fouled a second time on the tackle though that is not clear from the video. Central midfielders Ricardo Clark and Michael Bradley got caught on the right side covering for Donovan when Cuauhtémoc Blanco broke the pressure with a cutting move and then toe poke to the cheater Castro. Castro hit the shot of his life. I’m still not sure how Howard didn’t get a finger on it.
After Moreno refused to call more fouls committed on Donovan and issued cautions to three of our four defenders for tackles that went uncalled or uncarded when committed by Mexico, Mexico took the lead after a defensive breakdown and a lucky bounce. The officiating really set the tone. We lost all aggressiveness when the yellows started flying for innocuous challenges. The telltale sign that the referee was in Mexico’s pocket came toward the end of the game before the second Mexico goal. Nery Castillo, grade A b-hole tried to pick up Davies off the ground by his neck and he went unpunished. Even with all the valid complaints about refereeing there was room for improvement from the Americans.
Our clearances were panicked when they did not need to be and often resulted in absorbing attack after attack from Mexico. I would have liked to have seen a halftime double switch of Jose Torres and Benny Feilhaber for Clint Dempsey and Ricardo Clark. Feilhaber and Torres are possession players who would have helped the US keep some of the ball. Chasing the ball all game surely tired the US players and directly resulted in an inability to stay with the Mexican attacker who split Donovan and Bocanegra on the second goal. That said the effort was there and without the lucky bounce off of Jay DeMerit to Sabah, the game likely ends 1-1. Mexico did not create many quality chances. DeMerit and Oguchi Onyewu were defensive stalwarts. Steve Cherundolo was steady on the right. Brian Ching battled but rarely had anything to work with. It was a solid effort.
Now we are left with four games, two at home against El Salvador and Costa Rica, and two away against Trinidad and Tobago and Honduras. With Honduras thrashing Costa Rica 4-0 last night the group is very tight and four formidable teams are battling for the three automatic bids. It’s not going to be an easy road to South Africa, but nobody ever said it would be.