For the first time in history, the US scored first at Azteca on Charlie Davies' 9th minute strike on which Landon provided a beautiful assist. For a few minutes, it seemed like the US had a flicker of hope for emerging victorious as long as they could keep up their balance play. Then for whatever reason, the US withdrew deep into their own half and chose to defend. It seemed inevitable that Mexico would score if this gameplan continued and they did on that wonderstrike by Israel Castro in the 19th minute. That shot looked as if it would soar above the crossbar but amazingly dipped just under it at the last moment.
That goal, and most likely the game, was the result of poor play by our central midfielders - Bradley and Clark. Bradley and Clark were nowhere near the ball when it came to the Mexican defender just 5 yards outside the 18. While our CBs, especially Onyewu, defended valiantly and our attacking players - Ching, Davies, Donovan, Dempsey played with a lot of heart, it seemed like our CMs were nonexistent. Versus Spain, those two were bulldogs in the middle, disrupting play and dispersing the ball on counters. Yesterday, they were relegated to jogging around and chasing Mexican bodies without any effect. Neither of them were even carded as you could typically expect when the opposition dominates possession vs the US team. At halftime, US fans were begging for the introduction of Benny Feilhaber to hopefully instill some semblance of a link between our defense and attack.
When Benny and surpisingly Holden were injected in the 2nd half (for an ineffective Clark and an exhausted Ching), moving Dempsey forward, the US play improved slightly. It gave fans the renewed hope for at least a draw and possibly even a counterattacking goal. Still, the US could not muster a consistent effective attack and eventually returned to defending and hoping for a draw.
A near fight ensued when Charlie Davies suffered an injury and that insufferable classless jerk, Nery Castillo, tried to force Davies back to his feet. I appreciated how Benny immediately raced over to protect his teammate from those hovering hyenas. Jozy Altidore came in to replace Davies and add some energy to the offense.
However, with 10 minutes left, the relentless Mexican attack bore fruit as a tired Donovan was beat in a footrace to the endline by Efrain Juarez and the resulting collision between a sweeping Demerit and .... popped the ball back to a wide open Miguel Sabah, who won the game. On the play, Bocanegra was nowhere to be found and Bradley inexplicably ran past the open Sabah to take a spot at the goalline.
The positional issue that the US will have to address in the future is the Mexican attack on the flanks by Guardado, Dos Santos, Vela and Nery Castillo. Matched up against our outside backs, we were under heavy pressure from the wings the entire time. Bocanegra was painfully slow against any Mexican player on the wing with the exception of Blanco. Cherundolo, while showing fairly well, still had difficulty with the speed and skill of those young Mexican players. The likely replacement for Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, is even slower than he is. The US will have to really address the LB situation soon - perhaps taking a long hard look at Edgar Castillo.
The addition of Jermaine Jones will help upgrade the CM as well since it was our other weak position yesterday. Other things we need to work on is ball control and first touch. Our passing was not crisp and our players seemed to have difficulty settling the ball. Often, we decided to just boot the ball upfield instead of pass it. Perhaps Jose Francisco Torres would have been a better option instead of Holden. We needed somebody to keep possession.
The referee was pathetically abysmal in that game. Fouls committed by Mexico went overlooked while similiar fouls by Americans warranted yellow cards. Close calls almost always went to the Mexicans. It was as if the ref was afraid of the crowd. Ridiculous. FIFA should review this game and punish this ref.
The game was ultimately a disappointment. After that landmark performance in the Confederations Cup followed by that letdown in the Gold Cup, US fans were hoping for another momentous upset at the Azteca to complete a memorable summer. Personally, I would have been very happy with a draw. We were one defensive stand away from doing just that so we can't be too down on the team. It is virtually impossible to win at Azteca since only 1 team has done so in like 50 years. Mexico deserved to win. And don't forget, we had scored first and were 10 minutes away from a result. Anyway, I would much rather have beaten #1 Spain than win the meaningless Gold Cup final or even beat Mexico at Azteca. Its inevitable that we do emerge victorious one of these years.
Tim Howard 6 - Tim was not at fault for the 2nd goal and was beat by a great dipping shot on the 1st. Still, its not a good outing when you are beat twice.
Steve Cherundolo 6 - Steve showed presence on the ball and was not outworked. However, he still struggled at times with the speed of Guardado.
Oguchi Onyewu 8 - Gooch was a force in the defense and made countless plays to keep the US in the game for 80 minutes.
Jay Demerit 6 - Jay had a decent outing and is at least as good as Bocanegra in the central defense. He needs to be careful on his tackles - yellow cards are easily awarded against skilled players.
Carlos Bocanegra 4 - Carlos is too slow to play LB at the international level. He played as best as he could but is simply out of position. Also, he contributes nothing to our attack and could not support Landon at all.
Clint Dempsey 5 - Looked tired and frustrated.
Michael Bradley 4 - Did not look like the box to box midfield we are accustomed to.
Ricardo Clark 3 - Completely ineffective and out of position on first goal. Should lose his spot to Jermaine Jones.
Landon Donovan 6.5 - Maybe our best player in the first half but was exhausted late in the game and beat for the 2nd goal.
Brian Ching 6 - Did his best to draw fouls but could not contribute much when central midfielders not getting him the ball.
Charlie Davies 8 - Terrific goal early on and was dangerous when presented with opportunities. Finally a clear cut starter for next summer.
Benny Feilhaber 6 - Not the midfield general performance we were hoping for but still an upgrade to Clark.
Stuart Holden 7 - Surprisingly, he seemed unintimidated by the magnitude of the game (and was probably just angry at the 5-0 beatdown last month) and was fairly disruptive and relatively effective in getting forward on the right side.
Jozy Altidore 5 - didn't play enough or see the ball enough for a true rating.
Our starting lineup needs to be:
--------Davies - Altidore-----
I put in Spector simply because I don't have any other answers at LB. none at all. Castillo doesn't strike me as a good defensive option nor does he seem to fit with the US system yet. I was thisclose to starting Feilhaber in place of Jr but Bradley's been far too valuable defensively to bench after just one poor game.