Record crowd of 69,582 witnesses 0-0 draw with Mexico.
Mexico fails to attain its goal of revenge in scoreless draw.
By Robert Wagman
HOUSTON - (Thursday, May 8, 2003) - "La revancha en la cancha" - revenge on the field - was what tonight's decidedly unfriendly "friendly" between the United States and Mexico was called in the Mexican media and in the Hispanic press north of the border. Tonight was to be Mexico's revenge for the shocking 2-0 World Cup Round of 16 loss to the Americans last June in Jeonju, South Korea.
Despite many pre-match predictions of an easy victory by Mexico's players, the match ended in a 0-0 draw. Mexico had only one legitimate shot, a couple of other attempts -- and a few crosses -- that might be called dangerous, but had little else to show for the 90 minutes. The U.S. had just as high a level of frustration with two hard shots, a couple of crosses that created problems and not much else.
U.S. coach Bruce Arena summed up things pretty well: "Mexico played well. In the first half we played poorly. We were too slow and gave them way to much space. At halftime, we made some adjustments and played better in the second half. But our fitness is not where it has to be to play on the international level. We need to be fitter and sharper on the ball.
"Mexico probably had something of an advantage tonight because they have played a number of matches together in a short time. For us putting together a team for tonight is a patchwork. We are still experimenting."
The Mexican squad tonight was the mixture of veterans and newcomers that Argentine coach Ricardo La Volpe has been looking at over the last few international frirendlies. It is very different from the Mexican squad in Jeonju and without a number of stars who were either in Europe or playing important club matches. Still, it is essentially the mixture of veterans and newcomers that dominated an almost full-strength Brazil last week in Guadalajara in a 0-0 draw. Missing tonight, however, were arguably Mexico's two most potent offensive players against Brazil: the injured Jared Borgetti and Pavel Pardo.
La Volpe has promised a more offensive Mexico -- one pushing the ball forward at all times with short, quick slashing passes. Gone, he has said, is the defensive-minded team that has managed to score only a single goal against the U.S. in the last six matches leading up to tonight. The Americans won five of those.
By and large, his team delivered, pressuring the U.S. with quick thrusts. In a reversal of the U.S.-Mexico matches of recent years, it was Mexico pressing and the U.S. was reduced to counterattacks. But, despite a change of style, Mexico seems to be getting the same results. This year, it has three nil-nil draws and a 1-1 tie, scoring three goals in six matches.
A thorn in the U.S. side all night was attacking midfielder Jesus Arellano, one of only two Mexican starters who played against the U.S. in Korea. He attacked from both sides and his snap shot in the 23rd minute forced a wonderful reaction save from Tim Howard.
Several Americans played very well tonight. Arena singled out second-half defensive substitute Bobby Convey, goalkeeper Tim Howard and defender Danny Califf for special praise. He was more guarded in his comments about others.
One problem tonight was the field. Rather than the pod system, used to provide a natural grass field for NFL games, it was decided to lay down a field of thick cut Bermuda sod in long strips over a base of dirt and clay. It resulted in a playing surface that was considerably harder than normally used for soccer. Given just 10 days from installation, the strips had no time to grow together and seams were evident everywhere. Groundskeepers spent days filling the seams with sand, which puffed up constantly during the match.
"We play on a lot worse in the Caribbean," Arena said dismissively
It was clear that Arena was disappointed both in the result and in the effort of a number of his players. "I'll take the win in the World Cup, as opposed to tonight," he said. "This match simply gives us a feel for (Mexico) as we both start to develop our rosters for 2006."
U.S. player ratings
Goalkeeper Tim Howard - 6.0: Came up big when he had to and otherwise was solid. Clearly has established himself as number three behind Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller.
Defender Eddie Pope - 5.5: A decent performance. Covered a lot of ground and won a number of battles in the air. Still coming back from injury.
Defender Carlos Bocanegra - 5.5: A good performance, but not outstanding. Was badly turned a couple of time, but recovered.
Defender Dan Califf - 6.5: Probably his best match with the national team. Held his ground and won most of the physical battles and had the bruises to prove it.
Defender Frankie Hejduk - 4: His job was to provide an offensive push up the right side. He was generally ineffective and was pulled when he obviously weakened in the second half.
Midfielder Chris Armas 6: A good welcome back from injury, but still hopefully not where he will be in a month or two. Held up well to the physical give and take.
Midfielder Pablo Mastroeni - 5: Far from one of his better matches. Made a few plays, but was beaten too often.
Midfielder Landon Donavan 5: Put in the effort, but to little avail. Lost the ball in key situations too easily and often dropped far back into the midfield when he became frustrated with his lack of service.
Midfielder DaMarcus Beasley - 5.5: Held up better to the physical pounding he has come to expect and made some fine defensive plays. At times, was the main offensive threat, but needs to finish better.
Forward Clint Mathis - 5: Brought attitude to the match and matched the Mexicans blow for blow. Is still recovering from surgery and is nowhere near fit. Was pulled at the half, earlier than planned.
Forward Brian McBride - 5.5: A frustrating night for him. Worked hard, but did not get much service. Had the best U.S. chance with a tremendous run, but shot into the side net.
Midfielder Earnie Stewart (46th minute for Mathis) - 5.5: Helped steady the U.S. midfield and to create some chances. Had one good scoring opportunity and otherwise played a solid half.
Midfielder Bobby Convey (65th minute for Mastroeni) - 7: Came in with instructions to give the team a boost. He certainly did at both ends making several wonderful runs that, with a little luck, would have resulted in a goal. Also, made two key defensive stops.
Midfielder Chris Klein (73rd minute for Hejduk) - 5.5: His fresh legs were a help on the right side and in the late going, he fell back and played solid defense. A good appearance.
Forward Cobi Jones (79th minute for McBride) - 5: Came in to provide a final push forward, but with the U.S. back on its heels through the final 15 minutes, did not have much of an impact.
Robert Wagman is a SoccerTimes senior correspondent and can be e-mailed at email@example.com.