The US men’s national team recorded a decisive victory against Mexico, which has hindered Mexico’s chances of featuring in next summer’s World Cup.
Jurgen Klinsmann was forced to make several changes to the side that lost to Costa Rica, Friday night. Eddie Johnson led the line in Klinsmann’s 4-2-3-1 with Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey and Alejandro Bedoya behind him. Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones played in the double pivot, while Fabian Johnson and Clarence Goodson were included in the back four.
Interim manager Luis Fernando Tena opted to align his side in a 4-4-2 with Javier Hernandez and Giovani Dos Santos leading the line. Andres Guardado and Christian Gimenez operated on the flanks, while Jesus Zavala and Fernando Arce formed a midfield duo.
Mexico started the match brightly, but problems they’ve encountered throughout the Hex haunted them, in a lacklustre affair between the two rivals.
Mexico’s bright start
It’s normal for players to increase their game when a new manager takes over the helm, and the Mexican’s surely wanted to impress Tena. Throughout the Hex, the Mexican’s have underachieved, often ridiculed for producing dull, predictable and feeble performances, specifically at home.
A key factor in Mexico’s poor results is their inability to penetrate, but Tena’s men were eager to mix up their possession-based approach to get a result. Dos Santos and Hernandez made diagonal runs into the channels and behind the US backline, looking to receive the ball in dangerous areas. The Mexican’s moved up the pitch as a unit, the tempo of their passing was much faster, and their midfield was looking to play defence-splitting passes in the final third.
Dos Santos in particular caused the American double pivot problems they experienced in Friday’s loss to Costa Rica. The Mexican dynamo was drifting into space behind Beckerman and Jones to receive the ball, which led to penetrating runs towards the US backline. Unfortunately, Dos Santos decision making and quality in the final third was dire, thus saving the Americans from falling behind early in the match – and as the match wore on, Jones improved and began to track Dos Santos’ movement between the lines.
All of the factors that have led to Mexico’s downfall at this stage were being perfected, and Tena’s presence looked to have given the side a much-needed spark going forward.
Press vs. Shape
Another key feat in Mexico’s bright start was their pressing. They dropped into two banks of four when they conceded possession and disrupted the Americans in the early moments of the match. Dos Santos pressed Beckerman when he dropped deep to receive the ball, forcing Klinsmann’s men to use another outlet going forward.
Earlier on, Jones was surprisingly given heaps of space in deep positions on the right side to play positive forward passes – despite not completing his short passes, Jones’ long diagonal balls were accurate. Tena identified this issue, which led to an evident difference in the way the Mexican’s pressed on the left side, opposed to the right. Although Guardado tucked into central areas when Mexico had possession, he joined Carlos Salcido and Acer in quickly pressing the left side of the pitch when the American’s played out of the back. The Mexican trio’s pressure didn’t last long, but it was successful – often forcing Fabian Johnson and Bedoya into conceding possession.
The American’s approach without the ball was logical and quite effective, due to the severe dip in the Mexican’s energy levels. Klinsmann’s men were keen on dropping off into two banks of four, allowing the Mexican’s to dictate the tempo of the match. Zavalla’s dropped between the two centrebacks creating a 3v2 situation against Eddie Johnson and Dempsey, and he often started Mexico’s build up play, but they encountered a recurring issue – no creativity or penetration – thus allowing the American’s to sit comfortably in their shape and soak up pressure.
Both sides enjoyed a decent amount of success without the ball, but Mexico’s inability to sustain their pressure or increase the tempo in their attack, saw the American’s shape reign supreme.
American’s going forward
Klinsmann’s men spent large portions of the match without the ball, as they looked to break on the counter – however, despite Mexico having more possession in the first half, the American’s used the ball better in the final third. Bedoya’s tucked in centrally allowing Fabian Johnson to get forward and provide width on the right flank, thus providing balance in the US attack.
Another positive element to the US attack was the link up play between Donovan and Dempsey. Donovan was eager to take on defenders when drifting infield, and he played key passes between the lines to Dempsey, who was often crowded out in the final third. With Klinsmann’s men deprived of passing options throughout the pitch, Donovan’s link up play with Dempsey was one of the few key components in the American attack that guided them into dangerous positions.
The American’s cautious approach to the match was vindicated, thus leading to very few goal-scoring opportunities, but they made the most of possession when going forward.
One of the several changes to Klinsmann’s squad was the introduction of a natural centre forward in Eddie Johnson. Dempsey started in Costa Rica, Friday night, and the American attacker failed to have a significant impact on the match, playing as the lone striker. He didn’t provide the required physical presence needed to succeed in the system, was unable to hold up the ball, and was often left as an isolated figure – despite scoring the lone US goal.
Johnson provided the Americans with the physical presence that they lacked on their travels to Costa Rica. He made sharp runs into the channels to allow his midfield to move higher up the field, while his link up and combination play with his attacking three was positive. Johnson was a nuisance to the Mexican back line, and was dominant when attacking set-pieces, which led to his match-winner.
In the first half, Omar Gonzalez blocked off a Mexican player, so Johnson could have space to successfully attack a corner kick, which fell into the hands of Jose Corona. Johnson made the most of his second chance – which saw Goodson replicate Gonzalez’s block – by nodding home a Donovan corner past an out-of positioned Corona.
Johnson provided a physical presence in attack, forcing the Mexican’s to cope with his direct threat and the American striker was a constant threat throughout the final third.
Johnson’s opener was one of the few key moments in the second half, as the onus was on Tena’s men to chase the match. Tena’s attempt to alter the outcome of the match was positive, but the Mexican’s once again struggled in several areas. Klinsmann’s men were content without the ball, because El Tri lacked the creativity, penetration and belief to break down a well-organized American side – which has been a recurring theme throughout their qualifying campaign.
Hector Herrera was introduced to add an attacking thrust from midfield, while Oribe Peralta partnered Hernandez upfront, moving Dos Santos to the right – yet Mexico still looked dire going forward. Peralta’s introduction saw Mexico become a natural 4-4-2 – focusing on hitting the target man, with the poacher playing off him – but deliveries from wide areas came at a minimum, Dos Santos didn’t trouble between the lines, while Hernandez was an isolated figure. The Americans kept their shape, encouraging the Mexican’s to push forward, because they were confident that Mexico couldn’t get behind their back line.
Nevertheless, Donovan put the match out of sight in the 78th minute, when he tapped in Mix Diskerud’s low-driven cross, after some nifty work around the box from the American substitute. An uninspiring second half displayed that Klinsmann’s tactics were spot on – he focused on his side’s defensive shape as a unit, solidity at the back and quick transitions. However, defensive errors from the Mexicans triggered the two goals, in a match that could’ve ended in a goalless draw.
Mexico continues to struggle to break down organized teams in the final third, and their defensive mistakes have seen them drop out of the top four in the Hex. The Americans were aware of their inability to create chances, so the idea to sit back and break on the counter was logical – and it has secured Klinsmann’s men a spot in next year’s World Cup.
Mexico is now placed in a difficult predicament, as hopes of featuring in next year’s World Cup look slim. Maximum points in both games are mandatory, but the issues this side face are worrying. A new manager will most likely take over, and he’ll need to address the issues they face in the attacking third, their slow passing tempo when in possession, and the ability to get the best out of Dos Santos and Hernandez. Most importantly, change is required, but maximum points are a must.
Despite possessing a depleted squad, Klinsmann was able to get the most out of his players and secure a top four finish in the Hex. It was an improved performance compared to what transpired in Costa Rica and the US manager will be looking to build on it in the future. The Americans still look flimsy in midfield without Michael Bradley and weak on right side of the pitch, but they can now set their eyes on Rio this summer, as they continue to develop into a side looking to make a statement.