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Borgetti's goal sends Mexico past U.S. 1-0.

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U.S.-Mexico analysis

In hostile territory, U.S. is outclassed by Mexico, but loses only 1-0.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

MEXICO CITY (Sunday, July 1, 2001) -- There are two ways to look at the United States performance in todayís 1-0 loss to Mexico at Azteca Stadium. On one hand, the U.S. was completely outplayed by a better team that clearly was more motivated, for the obvious reason that the Mexicans were facing elimination. On the other hand, the Americans did not play well against a strong team, in a hostile situation and still only fell by a goal and was in position to steal a draw late in the match.

It wasnít so much the U.S. was awful today, although clearly it was far and away its poorest performance of the final World Cup qualifying round. It wasnít so much that Mexico played an outstanding match, having created few quality chances. It was one of those matches where one team dominated the midfield, and that was enough to bring home a victory.

Both coaches seemed to agree on this point. "I didnít think either team played particularly well, especially in the offensive end," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "Neither team created many quality chances. We didnít put much physical effort into the first half. We made a very foolish play, and conceded a goal."

Mexican coach Javier Aguirre echoed Arena. "It wasnít a brilliant effort," he said. "We got the three points and we keep our heads above water."

Mexico came out at a much slower pace that the U.S. expected and the Americans responded in the first 45 minutes with its poorest effort of 2001. "We came out slow and sluggish and with a wrong attitude," midfielder Chris Armas explained. "It definitely didnít feel good out there today. We just werenít mentally prepared to come out today. Too many players, including myself, just werenít sharp in the first half, and once you get behind here itís very difficult to catch up."

Defender Jeff Agoos agreed: "During the first half their was no connection between players. We didnít push forward. There were no players for the forwards to play back to. We just werenít good as a team."

Tactics actually played a significant role. Aguirre flooded the midfield, starting five midfielders in a 3-5-2 formation. Gerardo Torrado was magnificent, winning ball after ball, and what few he didnít get, were chased down by Alberto Garcia Aspe, called back into the Mexican side after a two year absence. With Mexico in control of the middle through the first 45 minutes, the U.S. could mount no attack whatsoever, failing to hold possession or make quality passes to the forwards.

Mexicans, especially Torrado, seemed to win every 50-50 ball. "To beat the United States the way they play under Bruce, you have to be able to control the midfield. So that what we set out to do today," Aguirre said.

At halftime, Arena made some changes to try to counter Mexicoís midfield dominance. He changed from 4-4-2 to a 3-5-2, inserting Cobi Jones into the right side of midfield, moving Tony Sanneh to the center of midfield, bringing left back David Regis up into the left midfield and stressing attack.

Mexico cooperated by falling back into a defensive shell and giving the U.S. a bit of room in the middle. The U.S. played better, but it wasnít near dangerous enough to get a positive result.

The U.S. obviously missed central midfielder Claudio Reyna, suspended for accumulated yellow cards. His leadership might have pulled the U.S. out of the doldrums during the first half. Midfielder John OíBrien, who succumbed to pressure and rejoined his club team, Ajax of Amsterdam, might have been able to counter Torrado had he been available. The same might have been said about Clint Mathis, but he will miss the rest of qualifying with a serious knee injury.

"Missing players is all part of qualifying," Arena said. "You play with who you have."

"We just didnít do what we wanted to do," said Sanneh, who played decently in an unfamiliar role as a central midfielder through the final 45 minutes. "If you canít string (passes) together, youíre not going to do well."

Agoos said, "Look, this was our worst performance of qualifying, But at the end we were still in position to have come away with a point and thatís about all you can ask for in a situation like this." In the final analysis, the team that needed the victory more, put out the effort to come away with the win. A letdown by the U.S. always seemed a danger coming into this match, and it happened. "Today, we beat ourselves," Agoos said.

The better team won today, and by more than the final score would indicate.

U.S. Player Ratings

Starters

Goalkeeper Kasey Keller - 6: No chance to stop Mexicoís goals. Came up big twice in the second half to keep the U.S. in the match. Played his usual good game.

Defender: David Regis - 5.5: Suffered a slight leg pull in the early going and was not as effective as he has been recently. In the second half, playing in the midfield, he actually looked sharper. Not his best effort.

Defender Jeff Agoos - 5.5: His communication error cost the goal, and he was beaten once or twice, but generally played a strong match and held the U.S. back line together during much of the first half when Mexico could have added to its lead.

Defender Carlos Llamosa - 5.5: An up-and-down match. Was beaten by speedy Mexican forwards on occasion, but also made some stellar defensive plays. Certainly far from his best match, but did not embarrass himself at all.

Defender Steve Cherundolo - 5: His youth and inexperience showed at times, especially against experienced forward Palencia. Made some good plays, but was too often outmaneuvered.

Midfielder Chris Armas - 5: Just was not up to par in this match. Was beaten to the ball almost constantly in the first half and in the second seemed to tire early.

Midfielder Tony Sanneh - 5.5: Not a bad match. Was helpful on defense, especially in the early going. Playing in the middle, as he had to do in the second half, is not his strength, but he helped give the U.S. some life after intermission.

Midfielder Earnie Stewart - 5.5: Was needed to play defensively too often Made a few decent offensive thrusts, but was not particularly dangerous.

Midfielder Joe-Max Moore - 4.5: Pretty much showed that central midfield is not his strength. Was beaten to the ball constantly, had few, if any decent touches. Was never really in the match.

Forward Jovan Kirovski - 5: Certainly worked hard, but with little to show for the effort. Received no service from the midfield and could do little on his own.

Forward Ante Razov - 4.5: Another forward who depends on service which he didnít get. A complete non-factor.

Reserves

Forward Cobi Jones (46th minute for Moore) - 5.5: Gave the U.S. some life in the second half. Led what few offensive forays the U.S. was able to mount with a decent performance.

Forward Brian McBride (60th minute for Kirovski)- 5.5: Worked very hard, making a few good plays, but he too depends on service and there wasnít any. He gets an "A" for effort, but with little result.

Midfielder Chris Klein (81st minute for Razov) - 5: Made a couple of runs, but generally made little impact.

Senior correspondent Robert Wagman can be e-mailed at bobwagman@soccertimes.com.

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