After 90 hard fought minutes, key injuries to both teams, and nine cards issued, “Dos a Cero” came to an end at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus. The United States well-documented success against El Tri at home ended with an 89′ Rafa Marquez goal resulting in a 2-1 defeat for the Yanks.
Criticism was thrown Jurgen Klinsmann‘s way well before kick-off when the starting formation for the USMNT was listed as a 3-5-2. Klinsmann would go on to say that it was actually a 3-4-3, giving young Christian Pulisic the freedom to roam around up top with Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood. What it ultimately ended up looking like is a 3-4-1-2 with Pulisic playing underneath the two forwards.
Without seeing a minute of play, one could ask why the team would start in a formation that they have never used in a competitive match to date. Leaning towards the side of optimism, one could be excited about the idea to do something different than in the past to scrap Mexico‘s original plan tactically.
Mexico also came out in a 3-5-2, but unfortunately for the United States, switched to a 4-4-2 almost immediately as Juan Carlos Osorio looked to pick apart an apparent weakness in the flanks. The switch put two Mexican players in both flanks as opposed to just Fabian Johnson on the left and Timmy Chandler on the right for the Americans.
In particular, Miguel Layun and Jesus “Tecatito” Corona terrorized Chandler on the right channel of the United States for the first half an hour. As a matter of fact, Layun found his way inside in the 20′ and had his strike deflect past Tim Howard to give his side the early 1-0 lead.
While Chandler is used to criticism for his performances on the international stage, the Eintracht Frankfurt right back actually put in a solid performance. He did struggle early on, but it appeared to be due to some lack of tactical preparation on Klinsmann’s part. It appeared as though the front line of the U.S. wanted to start pressing as Mexico went from their own defensive third to the midfield third, but with Corona playing high and wide, it was obvious that Chandler never felt comfortable stepping up to put pressure on Layun.
It wasn’t just Chandler either. There were times in the channel in the U.S.’s defensive third that Chandler, Michael Bradley, and Omar Gonzalez all looked confused as to who’s responsibility it was to pressure.
As if that all wasn’t bad enough, Gonzalez looked extremely uncomfortable at times way out on the right flank with John Brooks holding as the anchor centrally and Matt Besler on the left.
Luckily for the rest of the U.S. Mens’ National Team, it appeared as though Bradley and Jermaine Jones may have persuaded Klinsmann to revert back to the more traditional 4-4-2 around the 28′ with Mexico’s Andres Guardado had to be subbed off due to injury.
While the decision proved to be a good one, the cause for concern is Klinsmann’s inability to make the decision on his own based on what he had seen.
Once the Yanks switched back into a 4-4-2, they looked considerably more comfortable in their roles. Mexico’s attack started to sputter a bit in the midfield, allowing players like Pulisic to pick up the ball and run at their back line and create a much more open, end-to-end, exciting match.
While the U.S. found an equalizer in the form of a Bobby Wood goal in the 49′, it was the style of play, the developing partnerships, and the individual performances that were most exciting to see. Pulisic proved to be the most dynamic attacking option that the red-white-and-blue have at their disposal, worrying Mexico to the extent of Carlos Salcedo taking a yellow card for what appeared to be a tackle more frequently seen on Sunday’s in the NFL. Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore really looked as though they are beginning to click with each other. Altidore would consistently drop deeper to receive the ball and bring others into the play, keeping the USMNT moving forward. Wood, on the other hand, was strong in his hold-up play but always looking to get in behind and be a goal-scoring threat.
74 minutes in, with the game on the line, Klinsmann needed a sub to make an impact in the attack. Unfortunately, he turned to DeAndre Yedlin as a winger. Again, leaning towards optimism, Yedlin did replace a fatigued Chandler and bolstered our back four with Johnson making what appeared to be a game-saving tackle at the back post. However, if the decision was made to use a sub to add to our attack out wide, the selection of Yedlin is a head-scratcher at the very least. With the likes of Julian Green, Alejandro Bedoya, and Graham Zusi on the bench, any of the three would have been able to offer more up front. Yedlin offers more pace than a lot of players not only in the squad but in the world, but he what he gains in pace he lacks in technical ability. Nearly immediately after being inserted into the match, he picked up the ball, dribbled into the middle, and got dispossessed to spring a Mexico counter. Against the technical savvy El Tri, selecting an almost purely physically talented player over the in-form Green or proven players in Bedoya and Zusi is a bit confusing.
American hearts broke in the 89′ minute. On Mexico’s only corner, Rafa Marquez was picked out and left Brad Guzan with no chance on a glancing header to the far post to win the match. Marquez was originally being marked by John Brooks, but as Marquez went towards the near post, it looked as though Brooks thought Altidore would pick him up and track his run. Unfortunately, Altidore never saw Marquez, leaving him completely unmarked.
Set pieces, widely considered an advantage for the U.S., ultimately cost them a point in World Cup Qualifying. While the marking should have, could have, and needs to be better, many pointed the blame at Klinsmann for what could have been perhaps a lack of detailed information to the squad. As the Marquez header made its way to goal, one couldn’t help but notice the lack of a presence on the back post. Could that have been the responsibility of Chandler or Besler and neither Michael Orozco or Fabian Johnson been made aware when they made the switch to the back? The world will probably never know.
At the end of the day, it appears to be a theme that Klinsmann underprepares his squad. The best managers in the world such as Pep Guardiola and Antonio Conte have a system that the repeatedly drill into their players until they have fully understood their role and stick with it. For players that have made an impact in the Bundesliga, Ligue 1, and Serie A at club level to look completely lost for the United States has to be blamed on Klinsmann, at least to an extent.