Dos A Cero is a thing of the past. For the first time in fifteen years, the United States lost a World Cup qualifier on home soil – falling on Friday night against Mexico by a score of two goals to one.
In this most meaningful Hexagonal opener, the mystique of Columbus fell apart for the USMNT – done in by another dose of aggressively incompetent coaching, and maybe a little bit of karma.
Jurgen Klinsmann refused to be outdone. He lined the US up in a 3-5-2 formation in which it had never played before.
The result was, of course, disaster. There was hardly an American player on the field who looked comfortable in a first half in which Mexico took the lead, hit the woodwork twice, and thoroughly dominated proceedings.
Klinsmann would abandon the 3-5-2 for the obvious 4-4-2 after just 28 minutes. But for Mexico, flying up and down the field with a confidence that they’d never shown before in a Columbus qualifier, the early success provided a crucial mental lift.
This time, El Tri didn’t crumble – not after the US got serious after the formation change, and not even after Bobby Wood leveled the score just after halftime.
In the end, it’d be Mr. Meltdown himself – the ageless Rafa Marquez – who had the freedom of Ohio on an 89th minute corner and used it to flick the game-winning header past Brad Guzan.
The identity of the Mexico hero was the salt in what is a painful wound for the United States. This program’s one organic tradition, its one great calling card, was its success in this game. It is no more.
And – stop me if you’ve heard this before – Klinsmann is directly responsible.
For a coach who saved his job not five months ago by finally settling on a consistent formation and group of personnel at the Copa America, this decision to abandon familiarity for novelty in these circumstances was another amazing stroke of hubris.
The result was a US midfield and backline which, feeling its way in the dark, was spectacularly disjointed. Against a Mexican attack full of skillful, quick playmakers, both units were left reeling.
Klinsmann’s post-game response to the total failure of his entire game-plan was, of course, to throw his players under the bus. Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones were called out by name.