USA 2 – Mexico 4

In our tactical preview, FFG boss Blake Owen was 100% on in terms of the two formations we’d see facing off tonight—USA’s 4-2-3-1 vs. Mexico’s quite similar 4-4-1-1.  What he, nor anyone, could have predicted was the personnel Bob Bradley would be using to fill those spots.

The "starting formations" after Cherundolo's early exit. The US back line never recovered.

When Mexico was prepping for this one, they had to have figured Donovan would be back in the starting XI—what they couldn’t have imagined was that he’d be starting as the lone stiker, essentially in a withdrawn false nine role. Then throw in the fact that Adu had apparently shown enough in his 20 or so minutes vs. Panama to get the start as this formation’s trequartista, flanked by Dempsey and Bedoya. This until-now-unseen chemistry was just enough to criss-cross Mexico’s center backs, who couldn’t quite sort out who should mark Adu and who should follow Donovan into the midfield.

Early in the first half, USA used this surprise effect, along with a slight man advantage in the midfield and the constant shifting of positions (Donovan and Dempsey switched roles), to put Mexico on their back heel, shocking a packed stadium by going up 2 – 0 early (we may be the only national team on the planet who is the “away” team playing at home, but let’s not go there).

A forced substitution, however, would prove to redefine this classic final. The exit of right-back Cherundolo due to injury prompted the entry of left-footed Bornstein, bumping Lichaj to the right side and throwing the recently steady USA back line into a mild confusion from which they never recovered. Since Mexico couldn’t penetrate the central midfield, they looked to long balls up the flanks (another spot on call by Blake) and testing through balls which strained USA’s not-so-speedy center backs, who were already so overworked tracking Chicharito’s off-the-ball genius they didn’t have the legs. This approach worked when a long through ball placed Barrera alone in front of Howard. USA’s inability to contain Dos Santos led to the second goal, and suddenly the old rivals were level.

Late in the half the second forced substitution looked to be another potential game changer. Mexican captain Rafael Marquez was replaced by Reynoso, and a tired Mexico had used 2 substitions at half time (Salcido was switched out earlier in half for no obvious reason).

2nd Half

The Mexicans apparently had the better pep talk at break and shortly after the restart Barrera beat Howard yet again for the go-ahead. Around the 60th minute, Bradley played his next card in the form of Juan Agudelo to replace Bedoya. He stuck with the 4-2-3-1 in a moment when you might have expected a shift to a two forward 4-4-2. The USA never quite found a gear in this configuration. With the need to push up, they left themselves exposed for repeated counter-attacks, usually fueled by the indefatigable Dos Santos, whose glorious finish for the 4th and final goal could not have been improved on or embellished by Messi himself.

Dos Santos, in fact, in his Messi-like free-roaming  and withdrawn role, proved to be the one element the US had no answer for. With the center backs tied to Chicharito and Jones and Bradley without the speed or stamina to chase his arcing runs, “Gio” was a nightmare, dribbling through the US bottom third as if it were dotted with cones at times.

In our write up on the Dallas Cup a few months back, we gave props to the Mexican youth system for producing superior futbol at the youth level. With a senior national team at the highest caliber we’ve seen for many years, they’ve proven this dominance holds on the biggest stage as well. For now.

Mexico has earned the right to represent our region in the 2013 Confederations Cup. We need to acknowledge that, wish them luck, and move on. When North America shows well on the world’s stage it benefits the entire continent with the attention placed on our evolving game.

We have bigger things to worry about at home, however. This is the second final in which the US has squandered a 2-goal lead (2009 Confederations Cup vs. Brazil), and the inability to stick through big games raises questions about more than just tactics.

Gringos, Bradley turned around a shaky start to reach the Gold Cup final, but then threw away a potential championship. Did he do enough to keep his job? Has Adu earned himself a long term role on the national team?

One Comments Post a Comment
  1. Blake Owen says:

    I think that even before Cherundolo went out, the US backline looked shaky. And I believe it was the fault of Bradley and Jones, though to an extent it was a systemic failure.

    Mexico pressed USA’s center backs and center mids. The United States didn’t, allowing Gerrardo and Co. to pick out players at their leisure.

    Not only was Mexico the better team ‘skilllistically,’ they were also better-conditioned. I couldn’t believe they were able to press the whole game.

    Color me impressed.

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