Azteca defeat exposes U.S. weaknesses
After a wave of optimism following their successful run in the Confederations Cup, the United States have come back down to earth with their 2-1 defeat to Mexico.
Although Mexico didn’t seal their victory on Wednesday until Miguel Sabah’s strike seven minutes from the end, the result actually flattered the United States who were outplayed at the Azteca stadium.
The U.S’s victory over European champions Spain in the Confederations Cup and their impressive performance in the final against Brazil – when they lead 2-0 before going down 3-2, showed the potential of Bob Bradley’s team.
Mexico though, reborn under coach Javier Aguirre, exposed the lingering weaknesses in the U.S line-up – as well as sending out a strong message that they aren’t about to get give up their long standing position as the dominant power in the CONCACAF region.
In fairness to Bradley and his team, playing at altitude in the Azteca in front of a hostile 105,000 Mexican fans is a devilishly difficult task which would test many of the world’s top teams.
But the context cannot totally excuse what was a weak display from the U.S and nor should it take away from the remarkable job Aguirre has done in getting Mexico back on track after their disastrous diversion with Swedish coach Sven Goran Eriksson.
Charlie Davies’ ninth minute opener for the U.S was quickly cancelled out by Israel Castro’s rocketing equaliser 11 minutes later leaving the sides on level terms at the break but Mexico had enjoyed the better of the possession.
That was even more the case after the break as the U.S defended bravely, led by the impressive Oguchi Onyewu at centre-half but gave the ball back to Mexico with surprising ease.
The U.S midfield never really got a grip on the game – the two holding players Michael Bradley and Ricardo Clark did little more than hold space while out wide Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan were largely ineffectual.
Whether Donovan, the U.S’s all time top scorer, should be playing on the flank rather than up-front is a question that will surely be on Bradley’s mind – Donovan was poor at tracking back and his lack of defensive awareness was exposed for Mexico’s winner.
Surely, the best place for Donovan is in support of the main striker — playing in the dangerous areas where his sharp turns, intelligent passing and finishing ability can make a difference. There are better wide midfielders than Donovan avaliable to Bradley — there probably aren’t better second strikers.
Up front Davies was a livewire and deserves an extended run in the side but he received poor service and little support from his strike partner Brian Ching who struggled badly.
Bradley has enough quality in his squad to juggle his midfield and strike force around – Jose Francisco Torres and Stuart Holden offer options on the flanks and Jozy Altidore is the most obvious alternative to Ching if Bradley continues with Donovan deeper.
What will concern him more was the display of his two full backs – Steve Cherundolo at right back was given the run around by Andres Guardado and skipper Carlos Bocanegra also had a torrid time against Giovani Dos Santos.
Jonathan Spector is a valid alternative at right-back and it was hard to leave the Azteca without thinking that the experienced Bocanegra would be better used in the middle – but left back has long been a problem spot for the U.S.
PHOTO: A Mexican soccer fan, with her face painted in the national colors, chants slogans as she celebrates her team’s 2-1 victory over the U.S. in their CONCACAF qualifier for the 2010 World Cup. REUTERS/Jorge Dan