FOX Soccer Exclusive
Mexico fails to meet expectations
This night should have set Mexico back on its expected path toward the top of the Hexagonal. The USA came into Estadio Azteca battered and bruised, with a host of deficiencies to exploit. Mexico, the new kings of CONCACAF, looked poised to notch yet another win over the Yanks.
It didn't happen.
Mexico coach José Manuel "Chepo" de la Torre and his players will surely point to the two valid penalty shouts inexplicably turned away by referee Walter Lopez. Yet that does not excuse the final result or Mexico’s disengaged performance in this dispiriting 0-0 draw. On a night when Mexico enjoyed more than enough of the play to claim the points, it once again lacked the quality in the final third to put the opposing team to the sword.
There were plenty of chances for Mexico, particularly with the way the visitors approached the affair. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann played into Mexico's hands by asking his fullbacks to press a bit higher from time to time and telling his players to push into the attacking half at points. This gambit – always dangerous one on foreign soil – invited Mexico to perform swashbuckling work on the counter and pile pressure on the makeshift U.S. fullbacks DaMarcus Beasley and Geoff Cameron.
Where they stand
For much of the first half, the Mexicans relied on their supremacy in the wide areas and the spotty tracking of the American wingers to heap pressure on the visitors. Javier Aquino teased and tormented Beasley after he tempted him into an early booking. Jorge Torres Nilo – much improved after an indifferent run of games for El Tri – ventured forward from left back often to create two-versus-one and three-versus-two opportunities when Giovani dos Santos or some other supporting midfielder floated into those areas.
All of that work ultimately led to little. Too many crosses missed their mark. Too many combinations ended with the final touch cut out or gone begging. One potentially neat sequence – a textbook counter including a diagonal into the space created by Cameron's foray up the right side and a subsequent loss of possession by the Americans – summed up Mexico’s issues when dos Santos completed it by thumping his cross away from everyone.
In fact, Dos Santos' irrelevancy killed Mexico in the second half. The clever playmaker needed to assert himself more in the crevices created by all of that wide play, but he never engineered the necessary moves through those spaces or provided the necessary midfield support to the isolated Javier Hernández up front.
With the U.S. compact in the middle of the park and increasingly reluctant to push out as the match progressed, Mexico’s opportunities dwindled. De la Torre inserted Omar Bravo and Ángel Reyna in a bid to spark his side to life. Reyna forced a fine save from Brad Guzan at the near post in the late stages as Mexico ratcheted up the pressure in a bid to salvage the points, but even his bright cameo could not change the course of this evening. Chicharito's desperate lunge for a late winner occurred a moment too late and captured the frustrations of a night that promised much, much more.
Much of the scrutiny in the next few days will fall on de la Torre and Lopez for their decisions in this affair. Both men – de la Torre for perhaps waiting too long to alter the calculus in a match that had slipped out of hand by the hour mark, Lopez for somehow ignoring Michael Bradley's push in the first half and Maurice Edu's crude challenge in the late stages – warrant the criticism they will face in the upcoming days. De la Torre, in particular, will hear questions about whether he is the man to take El Tri to Brazil after his team’s indifferent start to the Hexagonal. Mexico has yet to win a game, with three draws in three attempts, and sit fifth in a six-team group.
But those two men should not bear the entire weight of the situation. The players charged with collecting three points against the U.S. possessed the means and the tactical approach necessary to dispatch their hated rivals yet again. They failed to meet their objective because they did not produce the quality necessary to break down a determined and organized opponent.
And now those players – and their coach, if he remains until June – must reflect upon this failure and sort out their concerns in the final third to place their journey to Brazil back on track when the Hexagonal resumes.