By Paul Kennedy
First things first, the better team won on Friday night.
Mexico coach Juan Carlos
Osorio recalled Carlos Vela and Giovani dos Santos, starting them together in attack for the first time since he took over as coach and the first time since the 4-4 game against
Trinidad & Tobago in the group stage of the 2015 Gold Cup, and he was rewarded for his attacking gambit as El Tri won, 2-1, ending its misery in Columbus.
With all the end-to-end
action, Friday's USA-Mexico game felt at times like the Mexico-T&T game that gave the Soca Warriors the group title. Jurgen Klinsmann bemoaned the missed U.S. chances with the score tied
1-1 -- and certainly there were chances.
“I think Mexico had the better part in their first half,” Klinsmann said. “The second half was outstanding [for us]. The only
thing that was missing was a couple of goals. We had enough chances to put it away. But we didn’t.”
The fact of the matter is that with a little luck Mexico could have been up
3-0, not 1-0, after 25 minutes as Jesus Corona's shot was tipped by Tim Howard off the far post and Vela hit the crossbar. And if Fabian Johnson had not come out of nowhere to
clear the ball away from Javier Hernandez on the doorstep of the U.S. goal Mexico would have gone ahead 10 minutes before it won the game on Rafael Marquez's goal.
to look at the USA's decision to abandon its ill-conceived 3-5-2 formation -- Klinsmann insisted it was a 3-4-3 -- for a more traditional 4-4-2 as the turning point of the game, but just as impactful
was the injury that deprived El Tri of Andres Guardado in midfield.
For however well the USA played to get back in the game, it deserved to lose for how it began -- and finished --
the game. Not for the first time this year, the USA came out and was asleep at the wheel. And just as destructive was its continued inability to deal with corner kicks.
In four of its
five losses in 2016, it fell behind in the first 20 minutes. The USA trailed Guatemala, 1-0, in the seventh minute and was 2-0 down after 15 minutes. It fell behind Colombia in the eighth minute of
the Copa Centenario opener. Argentina scored in the third minute of their Copa Centenario semifinal. And Miguel Layun's opening goal, which capped off a flurry of Mexican activity in front of
Howard's goal, came in the 20th minute.
The only thing that was different about Layun's goal as compared to the other goals is that it did not come on a corner kick. In the Guatemala
game, the Chapines almost scored on their first corner kick, but Rafael Morales put away the second after Mix Diskerud made a
meal of a ball played into the area. In the Copa Centenario opener, Colombia's Cristian Zapata scored on a volley off a corner kick
after he eluded his marker, Geoff Cameron. Four games later, the USA failed to clear a corner kick and Lionel Messi played Ezequiel Lavezzi through to head the ball over Brad Guzan.
What Rafa Marquez's goal had in common with the Zapata and Lavezzi goals was that it was
U.S. opponent's first corner kick of the game -- in the 89th minute -- and the U.S. defense could not handle it. Klinsmann called out John
Brooks for failing to mark Marquez but the defense looked entirely lost on the play. Johnson was on the near post, but should someone not have been on the far post?
Four losses with
the deciding goal scored each time on the first or second corner kick of the game. After Friday's game, the players all agreed that they had fallen asleep. Altidore termed the mistake on the Marquez
goal "growing pains."
“We have a young team with a lot of young guys that will learn from tonight and move forward," he said. "A lot of talented guys, but these are some of the
growing pains you go with."
The problem is, the USA is not a young or inexperienced team. Eleven of the 14 players Klinsmann fielded against Mexico went to the 2014 World Cup, and a 12th
player, Michael Orozco, might have gone if he had not been hurt. The other two players -- Christian Pulisic and Bobby Wood -- were the best U.S. players on the field Friday night.
Of the 11 starters against Mexico, nine have played in the Bundesliga or Premier League, or both, so it isn't like they don't play at a high level.
Klinsmann has promised he'll get a reaction out his players against Costa Rica on Tuesday night at
the Estadio Nacional. He'll need to have them on alert. When the USA played the Ticos in the Hexagonal in San Jose in 2013, it went down two goals after all of nine minutes and lost, 3-1.
You guessed it, the first goal came off a corner kick.