United States takes lucky Mathis goal, little else from uninspired victory over Mexico.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, April 3, 2002) -- The United States and Mexico played what amounted to an uninspired scoreless draw tonight at Invesco Field in Denver, but the Americans went into the record books the 1-0 winner, thanks to a gift goal, compliments of an almost comical collision between Mexican defender Manuel Vidrio and goalkeeper Oscar Perez that allowed Clint Mathis to score into the open net from three yards out.
In the first half, neither team looked particularly interested in the proceedings on a cold night in front of a crowd of 48,476, most of whom seemed to be rooting for the visitors. After the Mexicans had an early goal disallowed for a clear offside, they seemed content to control play in the midfield, but never mounted much offense.
For its part, the U.S. was dreadful through the first 45 minutes. It did not have a legitimate chance on goal with a midfield that was completely dominated and provided little or no assistance to the strikers.
"I am extremely proud of our team. It has been a tough four months of preparation for the World Cup. In all honesty, some of our players were simply exhausted today," U.S. coach Bruce Arena said. "This is a day where the soccer wasn’t great, and you had to have a big heart to win. I’m proud of the turnout here in Denver, and we wish Mexico the best of luck in the World Cup."
The match actually turned on two second-half substitutions and a change in U.S. strategy and tactics. Arena inserted Carlos Llamosa into the center of defense next to his long-time playing partner Eddie Pope. At the same time, he moved central defencer Pablo Mastroeni out to the left wing, keeping Frankie Hedjuk on the right side.
Playing a three-back set after intermission, Hedjuk pushed into midfield and often into the attack. Pope and Llamosa were able to handle the middle, Mastroeni gave a good accounting for himself on the left and Hedjuk’s contributions on the right helped the U.S. even out the battle in the midfield.
At the same time, striker Josh Wolff came in to start the half, and he gave the Americans an immediate offensive lift. He is much speedier off the ball than his Chicago Fire teammate Ante Razov, who he replaced, and his diagonal runs helped spread the Mexican defense and open some space in the middle.
To be completely fair, as poorly played as the first half was on the part of both sides, the second half was better and the last half hour included some interesting soccer. Clearly the unhappiest spectator in Invesco Field was Mexican coach Javier Aguirre who was all over his players as he paced the sidelines, once getting into a confrontation with the fourth official as he roamed far outside the bench area.
Aguirre’s yelling combined with the U.S. goal seemed to wake up the Mexicans, and the U.S. had to play some nice team defense down the stretch to keep the Mexicans from mounting any serious challenges.
This was the fourth straight time the Americans defeated Mexico on U.S. soil, scoring eight times and not conceding a goal in the process. It was also one of those victories you take with a smile and move on. It was not a match for the ages.
U.S. player ratings:
Goalkeeper Tony Meola- 5.5: A bit shaky in the early going, then settled in and did what he had to. Not a busy night.
Defender Greg Vanney - 5.5: Took a long flight from France to play 45 minutes. Did not play badly and protected his flank. Was not able to push forward very often, but did make the attempt.
Defender Pablo Mastroeni 5.5: Showed he had versatility, moving out to the left side in the second half. Made a few errors, usually by over-committing, but did enhance his chance of making the final roster by showing he can play any defensive position.
Defender Eddie Pope 6.5: Obviously more rested than he was against Germany, he had a fine night. Was solid throughout, especially in the second half with Llamosa at his side.
Defender Frankie Hedjuk - 6: His best national-team match since getting back in the mix in January. Was solid in the back and in the second half played an attacking wing position on the right side.
Midfielder Richard Mulrooney - 5: Although a Major League Soccer midfielder, he looks more comfortable at this level as an outside defender. Played decently, but did not provide a dependable link between defense and offense.
Midfielder Landon Donavan 5: Was only dangerous when making runs off the ball, times that were few and far between. Is showing he is not a classic central midfielder who can be expected to guide the offense.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 5: Showed that speed means little when you spend the evening picking yourself off the ground every time you touch the ball. Continues to demonstrate he is not ready for the physical play at this level.
Midfielder Cobi Jones 4:5: At a point where it looked like neither team would score, he had the ball on his foot, was under no pressure and had the keeper beaten. But he could only put it off the crossbar. Not a distinguished outing.
Forward Clint Mathis - 5.5: Some good touches in the second half and did score the goal, but not one of his better outings of late. Spent most of the evening in the midfield out of necessity as he was getting little service.
Forward Ante Razov - 4.5: With little or no service, was never in the match in the 45 minutes he played.
Forward Josh Wolff (46th minute for Razov) - 6: Provided an offensive spark for the U.S. tonight. Ran well off the ball and spread out the Mexican defense. Possibly his best 45 minutes of the year for the national team.
Defender Carlos Llamosa (46th minute for Vanney) 6: Gave the back line shape in the second half and partnered well with Pope. Long pass caused the error that gave the U.S. its lucky goal. Made a major statement that he belongs on the final World Cup roster.
Midfielder Brian Maisonneuve (69th minute for Jones) - 4.5: He gave the ball away too often and really never could get into the match.
Midfielder Brian West (80th minute for Donovan) no rating: Fresh legs helped in the late going.
Senior correspondent Robert Wagman's "It Seems To Me . . . " appears regularly on SoccerTimes. He can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org..