COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mexico usually have a more talented and skillful team than the United States. Even as the Americans got better, the individual talented tilted El Tri's way. Despite that, the U.S. played with Mexico time and time again, even holding the advantage in the rivalry for the better part of the 2000s. And every time the El Tri traveled to Columbus, Ohio, they walked away 2-0 losers, individual talent be damned.
At least that was the case until Friday. When Rafa Marquez nodded home in the 89th minute to lift Mexico to a 2-1 win over their hated rivals, El Tri had finally gotten the best of the U.S. in Columbus. Dos a Cero was dead, and Mexico did it the same way that the Americans had gotten the better of them for so long with inferior talent.
Mexico were calm, compact, organized, assured and better on set pieces. It was the U.S. blueprint.
Juan Carlos Osorio deserves the bulk of the credit for this new Mexico. He's known as “The Professor” because of the work he puts in studying the game and how prepared his teams are for matches. So while El Tri made a change as soon as the match started, going to a more conventional setup, they never looked confused or even unsure of what they were doing. Tactically, they were rock solid and even when the U.S. came out in an unusual 3-5-2, Mexico weren't fazed. They attacked the Americans just fine. Osorio prepared his team to perfection and the players were as assured as could be.
Moreover, Mexico looked comfortable, which no one really expected. El Tri teams of the past have looked overexcited at times against the U.S. They've been bothered by the cold of Ohio or even the atmosphere. They've been uneasy under the pressure, be it the magnitude of the match or the aura of the Dos a Cero legend. That wasn't the case on Friday, though.
Right from the start, Mexico looked calm. The players didn't press or overexert themselves. It could have been any other match for them.
On the flip side was the U.S., who came out with a three-man back line then changed only a half-hour in after being overwhelmed. They were the ones who didn't know exactly what they wanted to do. And their opening goal was made possible in part by Michael Bradley over-running the play as the Americans were the ones who pushed a little too hard.
Despite all that, Mexico still went into the 89th minute only level. And yes, it was an impressive performance that looked set to earn them a historic draw, but there was a corner kick to be taken and that's where they finished the deal. Marquez scored on it, getting free and nodding the ball home for the winner.
After the match, Klinsmann said that John Brooks was supposed to be marking Marquez, while Brad Guzan pointed at both Brooks and Jozy Altidore following the goal and Bradley said it was a tactical miscommunication. The Americans weren't exactly sure what went wrong, who made the mistake or what had gone wrong. That's something that, in the past, had been reserved for Mexico.
Tactics, composure, set pieces. All of them earned the U.S. many a win, but on Friday all went Mexico's way.
Mexico still had the most talented, skillful team on Friday, but that wasn't all they were. And it's why they didn't get beat again. Because thanks to Osorio, they were calm and composed. They were compact and assured. And when they needed it, they won the match on a set piece, just like the U.S. used to do to them.