Mar 27, 2013, 12:34 AM EDT
A week ago the United States national team found itself injury depleted, dealing with some internal turmoil and not so far from a full-blown crisis.
These things do change quickly, though, and tonight finds the United States with four big points from a pair of matches over five nights, striding away from a memorable few days, comfortably positioned in final round World Cup qualifying.
The Americans were hardly overwhelming in a 0-0 draw with Mexico, but Jurgen Klinsmann and his patchwork back line will be far more pleased with Tuesday’s result than the hapless Mexicans, who have (Shockingly!) zero wins after three matches in the final stage of CONCACAF regional qualifying.
The United States never put a shot on goal Tuesday. But neither did they allow much bother for goalkeeper Brad Guzan as quality center back play and a first-half defensive adjustment reduced Mexico and high-scoring Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez – who remains on the hunt for his first goal against the United States – to a series of half-chances and a couple of unlucky, close-in ricochets.
Guzan handled a few routine balls and needed to make one late, quality save. But Tim Howard’s replacement was hardly tested otherwise by a rather stale and uncreative Mexican attack. Including last August’s 1-0 win for the United States, El Tri has not scored on the Americans at Azteca Stadium in more than 180 minutes.
The United States is tied for second with Costa Rica and Honduras in the six-team group (from which three teams automatically qualify for Brazil 2014). But with the toughest match (away to Mexico) behind them, and with four of seven remaining matches on home soil, the Americans have reason to like their positioning tonight.
“I think when many people doubted us, when many people said it couldn’t be done, that it was over, we came together as a group,” Herculez Gomez told ESPN after the match. “We showed tremendous attitude, tremendous willingness to sacrifice for one another … I’ve got to applaud my teammates. It’s a great group of guys, and we couldn’t have asked for any better.”
This was just the second time the United States earned a point in 15 World Cup qualifiers in Mexico; the U.S. record there now is 0-13-2.
U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann made just two changes form the team that stamped “mission accomplished” across last Friday’s snowy proceedings outside Denver. Maurice Edu was in for the injured Jermaine Jones at the holding midfield spot. And Matt Besler got his first World Cup qualifier start for Clarence Goodson, who picked up a minor injury in Friday’s 1-0 win over Costa Rica.
Mexico’s plan was clear – and it was causing some U.S. defensive headaches early. El Tri looked for Gio Dos Santos or Javier Aquino on the right or Andrés Guardado on the left with diagonal balls, repeatedly catching the U.S. fullbacks a little too far forward.
DaMarcus Beasley looked particularly bothered, reinforcing the worry that the veteran midfielder, pulling emergency left back duty, would be stretched in a match that demanded more defending. Indeed, Mexico at Azteca is a wholly different beast than what Beasley saw Friday at home against Costa Rica.
Two U.S. men had yellow cards in the first 20 minutes. In fact, Beasley needed just eight minutes to get his booking for an unwise push in the back on Aquino.
Those weren’t the only defensive issues early. Jesus Zavala was allowed a wide open header off a free kick, as Geoff Cameron appeared to lose his man. And the United States’ midfield was allowing too much service from 35-40 yards out, begging for trouble with a goal-scorer of supreme instinct like Hernandez is around.
But a defensive tweak helped as what looked like a 4-2-3-1 to begin Tuesday’s contest evolved necessarily into more of a 4-4-2. When Graham Zusi and Herculez Gomez moved their starting positions along the flanks about 10-15 yards back, providing more assistance to their fullbacks, the Mexicans looked slightly less dangerous.
Mexico, running out of ideas, became predictable. They remained dangerous on the flanks, but Besler and especially Omar Gonzalez remained faithfully in the center, refusing to be drawn out, and were so dominant in there. Cameron also did solid work in his second consecutive start at right back.
“‘The back line was outstanding,” Klinsmann said. “It’s really wonderful to see these guys take on these challenges. And it’s a huge challenge in front of 100,000 people, and it seemed like it didn’t bother them.”
Mexican fans will surely be upset about the most dangerous moment for their team, which has not scored at home so far in two final round qualifiers. El Tri was unlucky to be denied a 75th minute penalty appeal when Edu bundled into Aquino from behind 10 yards from goal.
May 3, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT
Sour grapes from a manager who just lost his trophy.
May 3, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
One miss and you’re out. That’s the Louis van Gaal way.
May 3, 2015, 9:10 PM EDT
The combination of Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins was too much to handle for NYCFC as the duo ran rampant at Yankee Stadium.
May 3, 2015, 8:40 PM EDT
Chelsea may have just won the title, but Robbie Earle and Kyle Martino are already looking ahead to next season.
May 3, 2015, 8:00 PM EDT
John Carver is almost certainly on his way out at Newcastle United, but how quickly will the club make changes?
May 3, 2015, 7:03 PM EDT
It was far from pretty for Sporting KC, but three points is three points, as they say.
May 3, 2015, 6:30 PM EDT
Catch up on all of Sunday’s action from Spain and Italy’s top flights.
May 3, 2015, 5:33 PM EDT
The Blues’ legend has had a hand in all four of Chelsea’s Premier League titles, but claims this one is special.
May 3, 2015, 4:45 PM EDT
Wilshere has been linked with a move to Manchester City, but his manager believes the midfielder will remain a Gunner.
May 3, 2015, 4:00 PM EDT
The Chelsea captain had one of his best seasons in years, and took a jab at a former manager who said he couldn’t play twice in one week.
May 3, 2015, 3:30 PM EDT
The former Arsenal and Barcelona midfielder says he knew Chelsea was the place to go to win trophies in England, including the big one cliched Sunday.
May 3, 2015, 2:56 PM EDT
Eden Hazard was understandably jovial following Chelsea’s clinching of the Premier League title.
May 3, 2015, 2:19 PM EDT
The Bundesliga club barely escaped relegation last season, and now they’re trying to do it again.
May 3, 2015, 1:40 PM EDT
With the Premier League championship officially decided, let’s look back to seven defining moments of Chelsea’s league season.
May 3, 2015, 12:53 PM EDT
Sergio Aguero got the better of Harry Kane at White Hart Lane.
May 3, 2015, 11:35 AM EDT
The Chelsea manager was all business following Chelsea’s title-clinching win over Crystal Palace.
May 3, 2015, 10:57 AM EDT
The Blues held the top spot in the Premier League table almost wire-to-wire, as no one came close.
May 3, 2015, 10:35 AM EDT
Sergio Aguero and Manchester City travel to White Hart Lane looking to lock down the Premier League’s second place spot.
May 3, 2015, 10:23 AM EDT
Chelsea secured its fourth Premier League title, and Player of the Year Eden Hazard fittingly sealed the clinching win.
May 3, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT
A local club in the lower leagues of Polish soccer saw a supporter killed by riot police as fans tried to storm the field.
- Top seven moments that defined Chelsea’s championship season 0
- Chelsea crowned Premier League champions in record fashion 0
- Chelsea 1-0 Crystal Palace: Hazard goal fittingly clinches Premier League title (video) 0
- MLS roundup: Revs, D.C. United rule the East; Timbers, Whitecaps split points 0
- MLS Snapshot: D.C. United 2-0 Columbus Crew SC 0
- Premier League Sunday preview: Chelsea chases coronation clincher, Spurs host Man City 0