Gonzalez leads gritty Azteca performance

U.S. Report Card
By Ridge Mahoney

The Americans did just enough to fend off a sputtering Mexico attack to earn a 0-0 tie Tuesday night, just the second time a USA team has emerged from a competitive match at Azteca Stadium with a point.

A defensive posture prevailed -- Mexico took 19 shots to just one for the USA -- and on another night, a rash of turnovers and/or good balls played to Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez might have produced Mexican goals. But defender Omar Gonzalez marshaled a resilient effort that blunted its border rival’s efforts to get its first victory of this Hexagonal.

That the Americans were missing several starters is sure to grate on Mexican fans, who for the second straight home game watched their team fail to score in the imposing Azteca.

7 BRAD GUZAN (Aston Villa/ENG) 22/0.
Shrewd decisions on when to challenge for balls and when to stay on his line stabilized the back line. Seldom called upon for most of match, he reacted quickly to kick clear a through ball outside the penalty area, and in the final seconds got down low to parry a skipping shot from distance. If there were any questions about whether he could carry over his sharp Aston Villa form to the national team, he answered them.

5 GEOFF CAMERON (Stoke City/ENG) 14/0. Tested often by Andres Guardado and Jorge Torres Nilo on the dribble, and while far from perfect, seldom left yards of space in his wake to permit a shot or uncontested cross. Still he was off the pace more often than is prudent, and hit balls wildly when there was time to look up and place the ball instead. On the good side he battled hard and closed off space towards the middle to force poor shots or stubbed passes.

8 OMAR GONZALEZ (Los Angeles Galaxy) 6/0. Perfectly timed tackle that thwarted Torres Nilo on the move in the penalty area typified his excellent performance. He usually got to balls before their intended targets on the ground and in the air, and if he didn’t, he took a big enough piece of the attacker to defuse the chance. A first half of hasty clearances gave way to more composed balls out of the back. The synchronization between he and Besler enabled them to easily thwart Javier Hernandez on a long ball down the middle, though they were fortunate when Chicharito got free but headed a Torres Nilo cross over the bar from close range.

7 MATT BESLER (Sporting Kansas City) 2/0. Took an early caution with a tactical foul yet tackled and won balls in the air confidently. Cut out an amazing number of through balls and angled passes off the feet of Giovanni dos Santos and Javier Aquino, and confidently cleared most of the high balls launched in his direction. The absence of a true second forward to partner Chicharito eased his task, yet he timed his interventions impeccably to repel Mexico’s dinking passes and darting runs as they edged into the penalty area.

5 DAMARCUS BEASLEY (Puebla/MEX) 99/17. Survived a couple of very shaky moments early in the match when he gave away a free kick and was cautioned and then let an easy trap escape him for a corner. Burned by Aquino and Co. a few times yet also broke up many combinations and fought through pain and fatigue to finish the match. Important blocks at the back post aided the second straight U.S. shutout.

5 MAURICE EDU (Bursaspor/TUR) 45/1. Played adequately for much of the match but two errors could have been critical. He lost the mark on Chicharito on a late corner kick that the Mexican striker flailed over the bar from point-blank range and escaped giving away a penalty kick despite crunching Aquino from behind as he wound up to shoot. There were periods when none of the U.S. players seemed capable of completing a significant pass yet he racked up some unforced errors.

6 MICHAEL BRADLEY (Roma/ITA) 75/11. Started and finished the match well, but nearly caused major problems with a couple of hiccups midway through the first half. Came into the match more in the second half and escaped pressure often to find teammates with passes and maintain possession. Worked a nice combination with Altidore and Dempsey but couldn’t pull the trigger in time. Shove on Chicharito was greatly embellished by an expert at theatrical dives but it wasn’t the smartest thing to do.

5 GRAHAM ZUSI (Sporting Kansas City) 10/1. Showed polish and confidence in the attacking third and played clever touches on several sequences, though again his crossing lacked menace. His defensive contributions were vital. He tracked back to topple Giovanni Dos Santos with a sharp tackle at a critical moment, and got his head to a dangerous back-post cross. Throughout the match he helped shield Cameron from the runs of Guardado and Torres Nilo.

4 HERCULEZ GOMEZ (Santos/MEX) 21/5. Started the match well while focusing mainly on defense, but faded in the second half and came off in the 71st minute. He struggled to connect with his teammates in the middle and attacking thirds, as his timing and touch seemed a bit off, as were his set plays The effort, as always, was there but Gomez may have been drained by his efforts in the snow Friday.

5 CLINT DEMPSEY (Tottenham/ENG) 94/32. Menaced the Mexican goal only
rarely, but dropped deep to find the ball and initiate passing sequences. Took a crack at goal from about 25 yards that went wide, and worked a few combinations in the attacking third that petered out. He once turned and took the ball towards goal only to encounter four opponents with no teammates in support. As the second half unfolded, his touches and runs forced the Mexicans to chase.

4 JOZY ALTIDORE (AZ/NED) 55/13. Held and relayed the ball when he got it, which was rarely since few of his teammates seemed capable of finding him with a pass. He took a pretty hard hit from Diego Reyes late in the first half that might have contributed to his departure in the 55th minute. The Mexican defenders were unable to win head duels or strip him of the ball but the Americans never got it to him within shooting range.

3 EDDIE JOHNSON (Seattle Sounders) 48/14. It’s hard to believe he was on the field for nearly 40 minutes, including stoppage time. He did almost nothing.

4 BRAD DAVIS (Houston Dynamo) 7/0. Stoppage-time foul -- and yellow card -- for kicking Guardado’s leg in free-kick range of the American goal was inexcusable.

NR BREK SHEA (Stoke City/ENG) 16/0. Replaced Zusi in 82nd minute.

(1=low; 5-average; 10=high.)</span

13 comments about "Gonzalez leads gritty Azteca performance".
  1. Walt Pericciuoli, March 27, 2013 at 8:32 a.m.

    Getting a point, and a clean sheet, despite constant pressure that produced 15 corner kicks and numerous free kicks for Mexico, the entire back four deserve 7 or better.Bodes well for our central defender pairings as we move forward. Good job USA

  2. charles davenport, March 27, 2013 at 8:54 a.m.

    Sorry, Alexei Lalas, but "classicallY" USMNT defense stinks, sucks, rots. Good News: the back four performed well by all accounts, including JK's, last nite. Bad news: 1.5 penalties could have been called, constant 2nd half Mexican pressure, and a Chicharito miss that normally would have been in the net. Good News: offenders on the uncalled penalties were not from the back four. Good News: JK has made it his first duty to organize the defense, without which advancement in the World Cup final is not possible; without defense, an offense comprised of any number of Dempseys and Donovans goes nowhere. Good News: The USMNT will qualify; I will be watching the defense next year against european teams in the pre-World Cup friendlies. If the defense is solid, the possibilities are great.

  3. beautiful game, March 27, 2013 at 10:09 a.m.

    First time under JK that the team kept good shape, was organized and coughed up the ball sporadically instead of usually when under pressure. Off the ball runs and quick passing were key elements in the successful game plan...too many players are over-rated in this article, but as a team it was much better.

  4. Luis Arreola, March 27, 2013 at 10:19 a.m.

    Omar is our new CD. That said, I really hate these type of games where one team plays to win and the other plays to not lose. I understand that USA could only hope to tie this game and will do so again when they play each other in USA because there is no way USA can beat this Mexican team. But it's more of the same and we will get no where with this team and style of play. 3 ties will not get us oput of group play in Brazil and will not create any type of exitement in our young players. There is a reason Barcelona and real Madrid are the most popular teams in the world. Barcelona plays to win and Real has the individual play that is exiting to watch. USA has neither. Our captain, Dempsey sucked. USA accomplished it's mission but in my opinion it continues to be the same low standard we have had always. Cant wait for those U20's.

  5. James Froehlich, March 27, 2013 at 12:48 p.m.

    IwN -- "Off the ball runs and quick passing were key elements insuccessful game plan."
    Totally agree. However, this didn'tjust pop up from nowhere. The improved midfield passing and passing out of the back has been improving for some time and has received little notice from the pundits. The quick touches and accurate passes from our backs has been very noticieable. Being able to hold the ball allowed the US to break up the Mexican flow and allowed our backs a little breathing room. We were even able to make some very credible runs at goal. One more point --- the back line problem MAY at last be solved when the "unavailables" return. IMO JK is on his way to changing/improving our style of play. It won't be smooth but it's happening.

  6. carlos m, March 27, 2013 at 1:24 p.m.

    Sorry luis this transition isnt. To your liking but our defense , our plague has been resolved now we do have some players out fyi , they will come back and make our attack stronger little by little I see klinsman building this group from the ground up . Patients Is a good word to know Luis , the results will show in brasil and you will be supprised who makes it and who doesnt we still havent reached our prime , I still remember the news when they said this was the best mexican national team I guess they spoke to soon maybe those dives that. GREAT national teams do will help them in the future or those Outsides from the greatest mexican player.

  7. beautiful game, March 27, 2013 at 2:22 p.m.

    I'm not so sure our backline problem has been solved. The next several games will determine that. One must remember that it's the players that have to step it up, not the coaching staff.IMHO, if the soccer gods were with Mexico, they would have had at minimum two goals.

  8. F B, March 27, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.

    Gents, you're both spot on. Defense was the whole story for USMNT last night. Whether Klinsi is working on one sector of the field at a time, or just borrowing Italian "catenaccio" tactics to avoid getting blitzed, I don't know. Whatever it is, it worked at getting the draw. This will not work forever or against all teams. Mexico is in its usual slow start mode, primarily for two reasons. It has stars on European teams who are not seeing enough play time with their teams. (Giovanni was completely off his game/ineffective, luckily, and Hernandez' timing was not there). No need to shed a tear for them, though. They completely dominated the US possession-wise (wonder what the final possession percentages were last night), and pressured the defense into yielding more than 15 corners. The pressure should have also yielded a PK from Edu's foul of Aquino in the box (who BTW totally owned Beasley speed wise). As the tournament heats up, they will do what it takes. My guess, they and Honduras will take the top 2 places, despite the latter team's hic-up last night. Yes, USMNT will qualify. That done, there's more time to work on the rest of the equation for a good showing in Brasil. Kudos to Klinsi!

  9. Kent James, March 27, 2013 at 5:01 p.m.

    I think these ratings are pretty accurate, though some players were just in tough spots. Gomez worked hard, but was not very effective with the ball (seemed like he had a lot of bad touches). Beasely got burned a few times, but he also stripped the Mexicans a couple key times, and seemed to be playing through some hard knocks (which we really needed him to do). He was also comfortable on the ball, but I have to admit, I was nervous every time Aquino lined up to go 1 v 1 against him. Gonzalez was superb; I'd heard good things about him, but this was the first time I really saw him perform up to expectations. Besler also did very well (consistent, not giving the ball away, not getting burned). While one great game doesn't solve all of our defensive problems, having these guys perform so well in such a cauldron certainly helps. Edu and Bradley were solid in midfield, and I thought held the ball well and passed it safely. They turned the ball over on occasion, but they're dealing with it under the most difficult circumstances, and I thought they did pretty well. Edu's tackle at the end was lucky not to cost us the game; he was late to recognize the danger. Altidore had no support; what is a holding forward supposed to do when he's holding the ball and no one comes forward to get it? Bottom line is that this group got the job done. I don't see this win demonstrating a key turning point for the program, or this line-up being the one that takes us to the finals, but we did well under the circumstances. We've got a ways to go, but this helps us get there.

  10. Alex G. Sicre, March 28, 2013 at 1:24 p.m.

    Good performance in hostile territory, we still need donovan in attack.

  11. Kerry Solomon, March 28, 2013 at 9:04 p.m.

    How can you rate Beasley so low when he played out of position, got the heck beat out of him and still defended pretty well and contributed nicely. AND Cameron played pretty well also.

  12. Kerry Solomon, March 28, 2013 at 9:15 p.m.

    One PK was not called. That is true but the 'push' in the box was worth a 9.5 by the Mexican diving judge. I'm sick of all teams diving like they're in a diving contest or like they have been shot. Referees should card these infractions. It's total bull. It ruins the game.

  13. Luis Arreola, March 28, 2013 at 11:44 p.m.

    What ruins the game is bunkering with 11 and not even thinking of attacking the whole game.

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