SAN ANTONIO – Of course, the score was dos-a-cero.
The U.S. national team maintained its recent run of results over Mexico on Wednesday night in San Antonio, defeating El Tri by the traditional score of 2-0 thanks to second-half goals by forwards Jordan Morris and Juan Agudelo. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann now is 3-0-3 against his team’s chief rival, which hasn’t beaten the Americans since the 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup final.
Here are three thoughts on the latest match in the USA-Mexico rivalry:
Add Morris’s name to the lengthening list of USA-Mexico lore.
Klinsmann clearly has an affinity for young, fearless and athletic players. Offering opportunities to promising but untested internationals was a key part of his 2004-05 overhaul of Germany, and it’s been a hallmark of his four years on the U.S. bench. And for the most part, it’s worked out—look no further than the contributions of DeAndre Yedlin and Julian Green at last summer’s World Cup.
On Wednesday, Morris, a Stanford University sophomore, became the latest newcomer to repay Klinsmann’s faith. The Seattle product isn’t even a pro, yet he handled the pulsating Alamodome atmosphere like a seasoned veteran. His strong, 31st-minute run down the Mexican right provided a glimpse of his awareness and athleticism. Morris had his head up looking for support while outrunning a pair of Mexican defenders. The play fizzled out at the endline as Jordan lacked a supporting runner.
In the 49th, Morris made history. The play started with a smart turn by Michael Bradley, who beat two defenders then laid the ball off to Gyasi Zardes. The LA Galaxy forward’s return pass was blocked and fell to Morris, who turned on the ball and calmly rifled a right-footed shot under Mexico goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo.
Morris scored only four goals for Stanford last fall, but Klinsmann clearly saw something special about the player, who made his U.S. debut in November. On Wednesday, the rest of the country saw it as well.
The 4-4-2 Works Again
Klinsmann stressed here again before the match that the year following a World Cup is a time to tinker and experiment.
“If we wouldn’t have done that the last nine months, we would have made a mistake. Then you’re stagnant,” he said Tuesday.
But Wednesday’s win provided additional evidence that the U.S. is most comfortable in a 4-4-2. Roles are clearly defined, the forwards have support and the spacing is more natural. It wasn’t perfect, of course. Joe Corona, in particular, was caught out from his spot in left midfield far too frequently in the first half, and Morris and Zardes weren’t always on the same page.
But like the first half against Switzerland last month, the 4-4-2 offered greater possession and movement than other formations Klinsmann has deployed in recent months. Kyle Beckerman did his usual yeoman’s work in front of the back four, freeing Bradley to roam and create. Bradley, in turn, was involved in both U.S. goals. He made the dribbling run that eventually set up Morris and hit a gorgeous, looping ball to Agudelo that led to the second goal.
A youthful Mexican team didn’t offer much going the other way, especially in the second half, but Bradley’s contributions offered an indication of why Klinsmann prefers him in a more advanced, creator’s role.
It may not be Bradley’s ideal position, but he may be the best at it in the U.S. pool. If Klinsmann is going to settle on anything else prior to the Gold Cup, it should be surrounding Bradley with a true defensive midfielder, two wingers and two forwards. That’s how the U.S. looks most comfortable right now.
Field of Seams
Morris and Agudelo ensured that the rutted, patchy sod that spent Wednesday evening doing a poor impression of a soccer field wasn’t the main story.
The U.S. Soccer Federation likes to move national team games around the country and likes to host matches against popular teams in big stadiums. The Americans hadn’t visited San Antonio since 1988, and a sell-out crowd of 64,369 was testament to the level of interest.
The problem—the Alamodome had artificial turf, which soccer teams don’t like to play on if they don’t have to. So the USSF, like it has in cities like Seattle, contracted with a local turf company to grow, transport and install natural grass over the artificial surface.
A USSF spokesperson said that less-than-ideal weather hurt the quality of the sod, and on Monday, a couple of days after installation began, Mexican Football Federation officials reportedly considered pulling out of the match. Mexico trained elsewhere on Monday then gave the Alamodome field a thumbs up. The U.S. then practiced in the stadium.
The bumps and ruts were evident. The ball bounced strangely, and easy passes played along the ground became an adventure for the recipient. Control was tough, dribbling was tougher and possession proved difficult to maintain. It didn’t make for pretty soccer.
It’s unknown whether the conditions will make the USSF think twice about temporary turf in the future. It may be loathe to shut out markets without natural grass stadiums permanently from the national team rotation, and the raucous crowd didn’t seem to have a problem with a game that featured plenty of energy and two good goals.
There’s a lot of idiosyncrasy in American soccer. Games like Wednesday’s are just part of doing business.