Last night the USMNT battled Mexico to a 2-2 draw. It was a friendly that landed on a non-FIFA date and gave the Americans a chance to prove they deserve a spot on the 2014 World Cup squad.
Some players proved themselves while others dwindled in the background. But that is not the story. The story is the tale of the two halves.
Since Jürgen Klinsmann took over, the USMNT had not lost to Mexico or even been scored on by the fast paced Mexican side. This statement still stands even though the Americans did give up two goals.
From the kickoff the Americans dominated. They made their new jerseys and themselves look like a new and improved squad. They took control of the midfield and kept the ball moving both out wide and down the throat of the Mexican squad. Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman worked well together. Beckerman is more of a defensive midfield, but if he does his job it allows Bradley to get forward, which makes the USMNT even more dangerous. It allows Bradley to connect with the forwards and create chances in the final third. Bradley had an outstanding game finding the midfielders out wide and forwards up top showcasing what the Americans are capable of in the World Cup.
Chris Wondolowski and Graham Zusi played well too. They both created space for themselves and their teammates while keeping the ball. They made themselves dangerous by not being afraid to take on defenders in the attacking third. Zusi played dangerous balls in the box and Wondolowski was able to get on the end of them and connect with the midfielders.
Bradley and Wondolowski both scored for the Americans in the first half. Bradley scored a great volley from the back post on a corner after shaking away his defender. Wondolowski scored on a cross from Tony Beltran that Bradley flicked on to the far post. They both won the battle for the space in front of them to earn these goals and put the USMNT up 2-0 at half.
The Americans dominated the first half all with Landon Donovan on the bench, but what happened in the second half?
The USMNT fell apart. About 20 minutes into the second half, Klinsmann did make a number of substitutions that changed the dynamic of the game. It changed how the Americans were playing, the flow and the pace of the game. Mexico also put on substitutions. They put on two natural forwards the Americans could not handle. They were faster and more skilled than the USMNT defenders and it showed. These forwards created a lot of space out wide and behind the American defenders that got them back in the game.
Mexico scored a quality header goal on a corner to make it 2-1. Rafael Marquez was wide open on the back post after his teammate set a pick play on American defenders Beckerman and Omar Gonzalez. Gonzalez should have passed his mark onto Beckerman and Marquez would not have scored. It comes down to communication.
Alan Pulido scored for Mexico 18 minutes later. A Mexican player took a shot that luckily hit the post, but Pulido was waiting on the back post and passed the ball into the back of the net.
In the second half, Mexico dominated and the USMNT had problems. There was not any communication or athleticism from the USMNT defenders. They were unable to cover the speedy forwards. And remember, Mexico is not known for having top forwards and the USMNT has to play two of the top teams (Germany and Portugal) in the World Cup who have a number of top forwards in the game. The USMNT defenders have some work to do before the World Cup.
This game was a tale of two halves and a story of why defenders always need to cover the back post.