Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Updated: February 7, 11:05 AM ET
The good and the bad
A moral victory. At least that's what new two-goal Mexican cult hero Jonny Magallon called Mexico's 2-2 tie with the U.S. That being the case, is it a moral victory for the U.S. that Mexico considered the result a moral victory? Most likely, especially when you factor into account the poor play by several weak links on the U.S. team who hopefully won't/shouldn't be around when the U.S. starts World Cup qualifying later this year. As for the game, from a U.S. perspective the result was fair but there were probably more negatives than positives. Here's some thoughts on the affair:
1. Jozy Altidore is the real deal -- OK, admittedly Altidore's contribution was sporadic due to limited touches on the ball. However, considering his age, the intensity of this matchup and the fact that he was a menacing presence in the Mexican box whenever the ball did come his way, it's safe to say that I don't see how Altidore isn't the starting forward for the U.S. from here on out. There's also the little matter of his debut international goal, a tremendous finish against quality opposition -- something his more senior peers and rivals like Eddie Johnson and Taylor Twellman have failed to do time after time.
2. The Michael Bradley-Ricardo Clark midfield -- This isn't the first time we've seen this combo as the central mid pair, and it probably won't be the last. However, I have yet to see it work -- at least not in the way that Bob Bradley intends. That is, unless he's happy with a midfield which is basically adept at breaking up opposing counters and disrupting possession but has a hard time holding onto the ball itself or linking effectively with the wing or attackers. The fact is, like it or not, both are essentially defensive midfielders. Yes, someday the younger Bradley might develop into more than that (given his current goal-scoring form in Holland) but right now? He's a defensive midfielder and he plays like one. The contrast in the U.S.' ability to move the ball along the ground and control tempo when Benny Feilhaber came on to replace Bradley was marked, which means two things -- first Feilhaber must leave Derby this summer and go somewhere he'll play, and secondly, enough with the Clark-Bradley or Bradley-Maurice Edu or Edu-Clark central midfields. Pair one of Bradley, Clark or Edu with Feilhaber or possibly Clint Dempsey in central mid.
3. The U.S. flanks -- The U.S. struggled to assert its authority due to the ineffectual play on the left and right sides. On the left, Bobby Convey was invisible all night and ineffective whenever he had the ball. Ramiro Corrales, coming off a decent showing against an understrength Sweden, effectively killed his international prospects with a performance that was borderline horrific. Aside from giving away countless free kicks in dangerous spots and showing zero ability to check players that ran at him, Corrales offered nothing going forward.
As for the right side, Landon Donovan had a brief spell late in the first half where he was active and influential, but was subdued for most of the night. Part of that is due to the fact that he wasn't getting the ball much due to poor midfield distribution and part of that is due to the fact that it was easy for Mexico to overload to his side due to Convey's ineffectiveness. However, as the U.S.' marquee name, and a player who's feasted on Mexico in the past, this was undoubtedly a disappointing performance from him. Last and certainly not least was Drew Moor's performance on the night. Being caught out of position badly on both of Mexico's goals -- set pieces no less and from Magallon (yes that's Jonny Magallon!) -- was bad enough, but what was just as disturbing was the ease in which Carlos Vela toasted him down the left side all game long. Even the one positive defensive play he made (blocking Vela's goal-bound shot) came as a result of Vela deciding not to pull the trigger and one-time a shot when wide open inside the box. Luckily for U.S. fans, it's unlikely Moor and Corrales will ever be seen in the same game again as starting outside backs, barring an injury epidemic of epic proportions.
4. What I did like from the U.S. -- Other than Altidore's goal, I liked Bob Bradley's willingness to throw youth into the fray, Adu, Altidore, Edu etc. That shows guts on the part of a coach and was in stark contrast to Hugo Sanchez's approach for Mexico (more on that later). Clint Dempsey's goal was a thing of beauty even if it was rightly called off for being offside prior to his receiving the entry pass. Equally memorable was the shell-shocked expression of Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa when he thought he'd conceded yet again. On defense, I'm generally not a fan of the Oguchi Onyewu and Carlos Bocanegra tandem, but they played probably the best game I've seen them play together as the center back pairing. Finally, goalie Tim Howard showed great command of his box all night long -- but he needs to stay under control with his emotions. His little set-to with Antonio de Nigris could have easily seen him sent off if de Nigris had milked the incident more.
5. Sanchez went conservative -- After all the pregame expectation that Sanchez would field a next-generation and fearless young Mexican lineup against the U.S., Sanchez surprised me by fielding essentially the same bunch that has habitually lost to the U.S. time and time again. Without Nery Castillo up top, the Mexican offense is pretty insipid and lacks a cutting edge, something it displayed again in having to rely on a defender to score both its goals -- a freak occurrence that is unlikely to happen again any time soon. The one Mexican player that looked very sharp on offense was teen Carlos Vela who impressed throughout, but then was inexplicably pulled for another teen phenom Gio Dos Santos. To no great surprise, Dos Santos looked sharp on arrival and made people wonder why he hadn't been on from the beginning. Why Mexico didn't play both simultaneously is a mystery to me, but Sanchez certainly did Corrales a favor by withholding Dos Santos for so long. The worrying thing for the U.S. is that the day is coming soon when Mexico will field Dos Santos and Andres Guardado on the wings and start Castillo and Vela as its strikers (assuming Sanchez wises up).
Final note -- it was refreshing to see some genuine signs of respect from the Mexican team after the game towards the U.S. players for the first time in a long time, especially after such a intense game -- Rafa Marquez in particular seemed to share some kind words for Altidore after the whistle.