Javier Aguirre got a monkey off his back. After a struggle of a tournament which saw El Tri struggle with the likes of Nicaragua and Panama and also need PKs to beat Costa Rica, the Mexican “B” team triumphed today at Giants Stadium.
This same El Tri side didn’t score a legitimate goal versus Nicaragua, a nation that was playing in its first ever major international tournament for 85 minutes. Yet today, they tore apart the Americans in the 2nd half scoring five goals, and perhaps feeling hard done not to have scored more.
The US controlled much of the first half, but failed to make its chances pay. The insertion of Carlos Vela changed the game in Mexico’s favor. The US lost its composure after the first Mexican goal: an ironic role reversal from the psychological warfare of recent US-Mexico games.
The gamble of playing Gio Dos Santos up front eventually paid off for Aguirre. Early in the match it seemed Gio was lost up top, not seeing as much of the ball as he has when playing on the right side of El Tri’s midfield. Vela and Dos Santos dominate: get used to that storyline- we could be hearing it for years to come.
The US had a clear penalty shout in the first half, when Clarence Goodson was taken down on a corner kick- but no call was made. Robbie Rogers had a clear chance to finish a great cross from Stuart Holden in the 48th minute and didn’t. At the time Mexico was already looking frustrated and losing their cool, a storyline we have seen before. The penalty call on Jay Heaps was shocking, especially given that referee Courtney Campbell has had the reputation in Mexico of being a pro-American.
Dos Santos not only went to ground easily, but he hit Heaps in the face clearly affecting the way the play looked from afar. After Gerrado Torrado, the veteran of this Mexico “B” squad converted the PK, El Tri never looked back. In fact Goalkeeper Troy Perkins kept the scoreline from being more embarrassing, and Robbie Rogers got away with a take down of Dos Santos in the area later. (Perhaps a make up call by Campbell?).
Still the US had a solid tournament, exceeding all realistic expectations. However, the performance in the final provided Mexico with a bigger margin of victory than it had against several weak opponents in the last year when stronger El Tri sides were fielded. So despite reaching the final, the American performance in the final will certainly make Bob Bradley’s decisions about certain players easier going forward.
Bradley, to his credit was the best coach in the tournament and he out thought Aguirre today setting up the US in an aggressive way which gave the Mexican defense fits. But the lack of class in this American side eventually showed. Even more apparent was the lack of composure this side showed. I know this is an unpopular and politically incorrect opinion but that is an outgrowth of the bulk of this team playing in MLS.
I am sure some fans will blame Bob Bradley for this performance which is laughable. But now we know why Bradley is reluctant to play too many MLS based players at once in a big game. MLS is a league that is good in spurts- but it’s tough to find players that play consistently for a full 90 minutes and it is a league where you see teams lose their shape and appear disorganized for long periods of matches. I’ve made these points before and continue to make them when observing MLS matches.
But Bob Bradley still makes changes late, allowing opposing managers to dictate second halves. We saw this versus Italy and Brazil in the Confederations Cup and again today. In some ways, Bradley is a victim of his own success: his pregame tactics work so effectively that the opposing manager makes radical changes (in this case it was the insertion of Vela and dropping Dos Santos back into a roaming role behind Vela and Miguel Sabah) to change the game.
We also now know why Bradley has been so eager to re-discover the form for certain players: Eddie Johnson for instance whose speed and finishing touch is something the US lacks. The fact is the player pool is not as deep as some may have thought and this Mexican team is a define “B” side having retained only 7 of 23 players from the last set of World Cup qualifiers and having struggled to beat some weak opposition in the last three weeks.
Stuart Holden leaves this tournament as a player that needs to be retained for the trip to Azteca. Even when the other American field players were jogging at the end of the game, Holden was fighting until the end, not willing to allow El Tri to play with one another for the remainder of the game. Holden, was clearly the player of the tournament for the USA.
Troy Perkins has clearly established himself as the third or even possible second choice goalkeeper. Perkins has improved a great deal since transferring to Norway a year and a half ago.
Player Ratings (US)
Dos Santos 9
COMING TOMORROW: WHAT WE LEARNED THIS SUMMER FOR THE USMNT