It was a disappointing start in the Hexagonal for the USMNT, which fell to Mexico in Columbus, OH, 2-1. Rafa Marquez, the ultimate rival of the Yanks, notched the game winner in the 89th minute. The game also snapped the USMNT’s 30-match unbeaten streak in home qualifiers — the United States last lost to Honduras in 2001.
The Stars & Stripes, which entered the match as winners of four straight 2-0 results in Columbus, started with a surprising formation. Jurgen Klinsmann deployed a 3-5-2 that had Matt Besler, Omar Gonzalez and John Brooks in defense. In midfield, from left to right, were Fabian Johnson, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Timmy Chandler, and Christian Pulisic in a Number 10 position, with Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore up top. Interestingly, this was John Brooks’ first World Cup qualifier.
The Mexicans, for their part, went with an attack-minded lineup with Carlos Vela, Giovani dos Santos, Jesús Manuel Corona and Chicharito Hernandez. Juan Carlos Osorio played to the team’s best attacking players and put size in the defense with tall defenders like Marquez, Hector Moreno, Diego Reyes and a solid aerial goalkeeper in Alfredo Talavera.
The action started in the 10th minute, when Corona ripped a shot outside the box that hit the post. A diving Tim Howard got the slightest of touches on the shot to help it onto the woodwork.
Play began to get chippy in the 18th minute with a couple hard fouls and Jones kicking a ball at a downed Mexican defender. A minute later, Altidore a had a header saved easily by Talavera.
Minute 20 saw the first goal come from Mexico. Michael Bradley lost a battle for possession and the ball fell for Layun, who fired a deflected shot that beat Howard to his left side.
A look at the goal that has @miseleccionmx in front. #USAvMEX https://t.co/aqLOtx8tNH— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 12, 2016
Mexico nearly doubled its lead in the 25th, as Vela’s header hit the crossbar, giving warning to the USMNT defense again. Mexico was then forced to make a change when Andres Guardado came off injured and was replaced by Carlos Salcedo.
In the 30th, Klinsmann finally made changes to his formation that did not work for the first half hour of play, switching to a 4-4-2. The move helped to settle the U.S. somewhat and the Yanks were able to play with more possession and get forward more.
The U.S. fashioned its best chance to that point in the 34th minute with a set piece from Bradley to Toronto FC teammate Altidore, who knocked it into the box. The attempt took a deflection before being cleared off the goal line by the Mexican defense.
Three minutes later, Howard suffered what appeared to be a groin injury while taking a goal kick. He was able to continue for about two minutes and made another diving save, before being taken out for Brad Guzan.
Five minutes later, it was halftime and Mexico was out front, 1-0. The first half was dominated by Mexico, which really gelled under Osorio, in what was probably his best half in charge. The USMNT played sloppy, undisciplined soccer could have led to a much worse score line after 45 minutes.
The second half began strong for the Stars & Stripes with a scramble in the box that saw three blocked shots by Mexican defenders. The U.S. finally broke through in the 50th after a great hold-up play by Altidore, sending in Wood, who finished from near the penalty spot.
Wood iguala los cartones en Columbus. https://t.co/PvFsFSw7GR— Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) November 12, 2016
Action picked back up in the 57th when a Bradley corner found Gonzalez for a header that was easily stopped by Talavera. The 58th minute brought a 2-on-1 attack for the U.S., with Bradley and Wood that they couldn't take advantage of. Bradley just let go a shot that hit off Reyes.
The chippiness returned in the 59th, when a Herrera penalty shout was called a dive and he received a yellow that came with some hard looks and arguments from the Mexican side.
Three minutes later, a couple of good touches between Chandler and Johnson led to a good shot by Johnson that sailed just high. Then Mexico made a substitution in the 72nd minute that I thought changed the game when Hirving Lozano came in for Vela. Lozano agility and quickness proved tough for the U.S. defense to handle.
Mexico had a chance to regain the lead in the 79th, when Lozano beat Brooks with speed and got off a cross for a wide-open Chicharito that Johnson cleared at the last second.
The crushing blow was delivered in the 89th, when a corner from Layun found Marquez wide open at the near post to send it in.
"Rafa" Márquez vuelve a darle ventaja al Tricolor. https://t.co/qKMz0I29na— Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports) November 12, 2016
The game ended with, you guessed it, more confrontations, when Salcedo was handed a red card for time wasting.
The statistics showed Mexico played better over the 90 minutes and in all honesty deserved the win. They had 58% of possession and 12 total shots to the USMNT’s 11 shots and 42% possession. The U.S. did play better in the second half, but Klinsmann’s experiment did not work in the first half, gifting Mexico 30 minutes that the visitors took advantage of.
Klinsmann now has a chance to redeem himself Tuesday in Costa Rica for the next game of the Hex. I think he will, by going back to what has been working for him.