Marquez's late strike sends Mexico past Americans in qualifying opener.
By Robert Wagman
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Friday, November 11, 2016) -- At time soccer can be a cruel game, as it was tonight for the United States men, who lost 2-1 to Mexico in the opener of the final round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying on a goal in the closing minute of regulation against the run of play before a sell-out crowd of 24,500 at MAPFRE Stadium.
With the score level at 1-1, Mexico defender Rafael Marquez shed his marker and redirected a corner kick into the far left corner for Mexico’s margin of victory.
Before the match, Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio, a Colombian with Major League Soccer coaching experience at the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls, said he thinks he came into this match with advantages over the Mexican squads which lost four straight 2-0 losses in qualifiers here. “We are stronger up front with more choices.”
He sought to take advantage by pushing hard offensively from the opening whistle. The Americans found themselves in difficulty in part because they started the match in an unusual 4-3-3 formation, which according to U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann, was employed to allow midfielder Christian Pulisic the freedom to roam from side to side behind the two strikers.
It didn’t work, Klinsmann admitted, because neither midfielder, Michael Bradley nor Jermaine Jones, was able to take on the Mexico’s midfielders one-on-one.
This allowed Mexico to dominate early. Mexico almost scored in the 10th minute, hitting a goal-post. It did take a 1-0 lead in the 20th minute when Miguel Layun pulled a ball from under Bradley and fired a shot past surprised goalkeeper Tim Howard.
The U.S. then moved back to a conventional 4-4-2 formation and started to do better, but Mexico ended up outshooting the Americans 10-1 in the first half.
The U.S. had a few chances in the opening half, but were thwarted by a well-organized and quick Mexican defense. Pulisic did made several good runs, but he had little support.
The U.S. came out of the dressing room for the second half showing new resolve. It paid dividends almost immediately. The Americans had a good chance at a goal right off the bat. Then, in the 49th minute, striker Jozy Altidore went on a strong run and fed forward Bobby Wood, who used his left foot to send it into the net to tie matters 1-1.
From that point on, the U.S. outplayed visitors badly. The Americans had several good chances for the go-ahead goal, but it didn’t come.
“The second half was outstanding. All it lacked were a couple of goals,” Klinsmann said. “It went their way, but overall it was an even, exciting match. Now we must go to Costa Rica and get three points.
Klinsmann had less than his full squad available. The most important missing players were center-back Geoff Cameron and attacking veteran Clint Dempsey. Cameron suffered a hyper-extended knee, suffered at his English Premier League club Stoke City; while Dempsey has been out for months with a heart condition.
Also missing was midfielder Kyle Beckerman, and forwards Chris Wondolowski, and Jordan Morris. All suffered recent injuries.
Previously, weather played an important factor in the Mexican losses here. Two of the matches were played on freezing February nights and, in 2011, it was so cold and icy the Mexicans did not come out to warm up. The weatherman tried to cooperate tonight by dropping temperatures into the low 40s with a stiff wind, but with more key Mexican players playing in Europe now, the Columbus weather was not a problem.
U.S. Player Ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 4.5: His return to the starting lineup did not last as long as he had hoped. After a wonderful initial stop, he looked surprised on the Mexican goal. Twice more, he looked beaten, but was saved by the woodwork. Then, he strained a groin muscle in the cold while making a goal kick, coming out in the 40h minute. Not a good night.
Defender Timmy Chandler –5: He too looked lost in the early 3-4-3 formation, but appeared much better after the change to a 4-4-2. He had a very good second half, making several quality crosses while playing sound defense.
Defender Omar Gonzalez - 5.5: Starting in place of the injured Geoff Cameron, he had problems the first half, finding himself out of position, trying to play in the three-back defense. He played better later, making the defensive play of the night when Mexico striker Javier Hernández found himself in the box with the ball on his foot, only to have Gonzalez sweep it away.
Defender John Brooks - 5: In his first World Cup qualifier start, he had an uneven game. At times, he did fine, but at other times, he looked a bit lost. He was likely at fault losing Rafa Marquez on the decisive goal.
Defender Matt Besler - 5: He struggled early, but after the U.S. went to four in the back, he did much better. He fit right into the physical play. He cramped up and had to come out late in the match, but before the Mexico’s winning goal.
Midfielder Michael Bradley– 5: He too had a uneven match. In the early going, he had trouble taking on opponents in the 3-4-3, but he improved as the game wore on.
Midfielder Jermaine Jones - 5: Coming off a serious injury, it was not clear if he could go 90 minutes. He started slowly, adding to the problems with the 3-4-3 formation, but he surprisingly got stronger as the match progressed. He matched the Mexicans’ physical play.. .
Midfielder Fabian Johnson - 5: Overall, he had a good night both offensively and defensively. He made some strong passes, especially in the second half, and might have been the only American who did not seem out of place early.
Midfielder Christian Pulisic - 5.5: The Pennsylvania wunderkind cemented his spot as a starter. He made several good runs through the center of the Mexican defense. In the second half, Mexico played him much tighter, which cut down on his movement.
Forward Bobby Wood - 7: He had a terrific game, not just on the goal, but he created other chances for himself and others. He was able to stand up the physical play in probably his best game for the U.S.
Forward Jozy Altidore - 6: He too had a strong game and seems to be working well with Wood. He probably should have had a goal, but it was not for a lack of effort.
Goalkeeper Brad Guzan (40th minute for Howard) - 5.5: He was not put under the pressure that Howard was, but he was solid. He made one impressive save and he could not be faulted on Mexico’s triumphant strike.
Defender DeAndre Yedlin (74th minute for Chandler) - 5: He added some energy, but he did little positive to really help the cause.
Defender Michael Orozco (81st minute for Bessler) – no rating: Had little impact in his short appearance.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Bobby Wood.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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