(Wednesday, February 7, 2007) -- It was clear the United States men continue to have Mexico's number when the two nations meet on American soil. Tonight, the U.S. shut out Mexico for the eighth time in a row 2-0 in Glendale, Ariz.
Most of the capacity crowd of 62,482 vociferously rooted for the visiting team.
After a lackluster first half in which each side created only one moderately dangerous scoring chance, the pace picked up after U.S. defender Jimmy Conrad headed home a Landon Donovan corner kick for a 1-0 lead in the 52nd minute. Mexico went to a lineup with four strikers and pushed forward with abandon in an attempt to equalize.
Still, the Mexicans seemed just a bit out of sync and, despite controlling the midfield for long stretches, could not muster that final touch to put a dangerous shot onto Tim Howard's goal. At least four times, Mexico attackers whiffed on what seemed to be perfect setups, while striker Jared Borgetti twice shot high when he appeared to have Howard at his mercy.
As Mexico pushed forward, the U.S. defense was up to the task. Where cohesion was lacking in the first American friendly of the year, a 3-1 victory over visiting Denmark at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., last month, tonight the U.S. defended as a unit and it made a significant difference.
The U.S. withstood continual pressure until Landon Donovan clinched the result with a breakaway goal in stoppage time.
On paper, it would seem Mexico should have dominated this match. Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez brought 14 from last summer's World Cup team, while summoning his five best European-based players. The Mexican players should be expected to be in better shape, considering they were all in the midst of club seasons. The large majority of the less experienced Americans have just started or will soon head into Major League Soccer training camps, though most had participated in a month-long training camp at The Home Depot Center.
The U.S. was without a number of players who figure to be starters over the next few years, including midfielder DaMarcus Beasley, and defenders Oguchi Onyewu and Steve Cherundolo.
Somehow, the U.S. not only came out on top, but once again kept Mexico off the scoreboard in a match that surprisingly resembled the matches between the North American neighbors over the past six or so years. The U.S. won playing team defense and by taking advantage of set plays and a bit of luck.
To an extent, the game resembled the last meeting between the two countries. The U.S. secured its spot in last summer's World Cup in Germany when it defeated Mexico 2-0 September 3, 2005, in a CONCACAF qualifier in Columbus, Ohio, with the Americans finding net on a set play and counter-attack breakaway in the second half..
Donovan and Chris Rolfe were listed as the starting forwards, but both played in a withdrawn position. It wasn't until Eddie Johnson replaced Rolfe in the 64th minute that the Americans had a striker who remained high as a target.
Pablo Mastroeni and particularly Conrad were solid in the middle of defense with Chris Albright on the right flank and Jonathan Bornstein on the left trying to push the ball up the flanks. While Bornstein was a revelation, using his speed to beat the opposition up the left sideline and to race into the right side of the penalty area to block a dangerous shot, Albright, a converted attacker, struggled again at his new position.
Pablo Mastroeni and Ricardo Clark were for the most part strong as defensive midfielders.
Conrad exploited a hole in the Mexican defense, not even having to jump to head home the decisive tally, while Donovan was the beneficiary of a fortunate bounce after a pass by Mexico ricocheted off referee Mauricio Navarro. Donovan dodged a couple of weak tackle attempts and went in alone on Oswaldo Sánchez, stepped left around the keeper and put the ball into an open net.
While this match was important for acting U.S. coach Bob Bradley as he tries to win the job permanently, it was huge for new Mexico coach Hugo Sanchez in his first game at the helm. Sanchez needs to put his stamp on his team to escape the shadow of his predecessor Ricardo Lavolpe.
Moreover, Sanchez has been under great pressure to reverse Mexico's recent results against the U.S., which entered tonight's contest having dominated the series 7-2-1 over the last six-plus years, including the memorable 2-0 Round-of-16 triumph to eliminate Mexico from the 2002 World Cup. Mexico has not scored a goal on American soil since 1999..
The U.S. did continue to show its deficiencies tonight. It has little attack coming out of the central midfield and must find someone to step up the replace its retired captain Claudio Reyna. It must also discover some offense from its front line, because it is clear Donovan is more comfortable coming out of the midfield or as a withdrawn forward.
However, whether it was luck, fate or just hard work, the U.S. came away with an improbable win tonight.