The USA came out with three players in
the middle of the backline, like it had done in Columbus in November but with different results. The USA was so unprepared and disorganized that midfield leaders Michael Bradley and Jermaine
Jones had to plead with Jurgen Klinsmann to abandon the 3-5-2 formation midway through the first half of a game that ended with a 2-1 Mexico win.
That and his decision to play the same starting lineup four days later in Costa Rica, where the Ticos crushed the USA, 4-0, were the final straws that cost Klinsmann his job.
Arena is not a big Xs and Os guy, but he is a great organizer. When he was given the national team coaching job a week after the disastrous loss to Costa Rica, he said there was nothing wrong with the team that could not be fixed.
"I really believe individually and positionally we have good players and we just got to get them working together as a team," he said right after he returned as national team coach. "There are no real secrets in how you build good teams. It takes a lot of hard work, it takes communication, it takes discipline and it takes some talent."
USA / MEXICO
Possession: 26% / 74%.
1. Formation change in the works since opening of camp.
Coming out with a 3-4-3 or 5-4-1 formation, or however you want to describe it, should have come as no surprise.
"We told the team on Day One of this camp that we would play that way in this game," Arena said.
And he tested the formation, finishing the friendly against Venezuela almost man-for-man in the formation the USA opened against Mexico.
Arena wasn't shy either about changing up his lineup. The USA had previously played double dates five times in the Hexagonal under Arena, and he never made more than three lineup changes from the first game to the second.
On Sunday, Arena made seven changes from the team that beat T&T, 2-0, giving Kellyn Acosta and Paul Arriola their first-ever starts in the Hexagonal and DaMarcus Beasley, at the age of 35, his first of the current qualifying cycle.
Hex: USA vs. Mexico at Azteca:
1997: Tie 0-0
2001: Mexico 1-0
2005: Mexico 2-1
2009: Mexico 2-1
2013: Tie 0-0
2017: Tie 1-1
2. Veterans come through with big games.
Only four starters on Sunday had started for the USA at the 2014 World Cup and all had big games, none bigger than Geoff Cameron, who marshaled the backline and made several key stops to keep El Tri from breaching the U.S. defense in the second half.
It is no coincidence he was injured last fall and missed the two November qualifiers the USA lost. In the three qualifiers he's started under Arena, the USA has shutout wins over Honduras and T&T and a tie at Mexico.
Bradley gave the USA the lead in the sixth minute with a shot from more than 40 yards -- arguably the best of his international career -- and almost had a second goal, hitting an equally spectacular shot that hit the outside of the post in the 74th minute.
Omar Gonzalez and Beasley joined Cameron, Tim Ream and DeAndre Yedlin, who both just finished up seasons in England's League Championship, on the backline that limited Mexico to one shot on goal -- Carlos Vela's equalizer in the 23rd minute when El Tri caught Gonzalez and Ream up field on a counterattack following a corner kick.
Mexico had 74 percent of the possession but only a 10-7 edge in shots and 9-7 edge in corner kicks -- in sharp contrast to the 17-1 edge in shots and 15-2 edge in corner kicks it had four years ago when the Mexico-USA game in Mexico City ended 0-0.
Hex: U.S. race for top
MATCH DAY (POS.) GAP
Matchday 1 (4th): -3
Matchday 2 (6th): -4
Matchday 3 (4th): -1
Matchday 4 (4th): -1
Matchday 5 (3rd): +1
*Matchday 6 (3rd): +2
*Two games to be played Tuesday.
3. Acosta makes case as Jones' successor.
Acosta had come on for Clint Dempsey at the hour mark of Thursday's 2-0 win over T&T and brought stability to the midfield next to Bradley. It was no surprise, then, that he got the start on Sunday, in the position often held by Jermaine Jones in the past.
But with Jones injured and relegated to broadcast duties on the Fox Sports studio crew, Acosta took advantage of his opportunity and showed why Arena is so high on him, covering lots of ground like Jones but offering a steadier touch with his passing.
No, the USA did not have a lot of possession but with the introduction of younger players like Bobby Wood, Christian Pulisic, Arriola, Yedlin and Acosta, it was enough to keep Mexico honest.
They provided, as Arena said afterwards, young legs, as well as in the case of Acosta, who played for FC Dallas against Pachuca, and Arriola, who plays for Tijuana, experience playing at altitude in Mexico.
And made the case that any progress the USA has made is as much due to the continued emergence of new talent as a change in approach.
June 11 in Mexico City
Mexico 1 USA 1. Goals: Vela 23; Bradley 6.
Mexico -- Ochoa, Salcedo, Reyes, Moreno, Alanis (Gallardo 31), Herrera, J. dos Santos (Pineda 77), Fabian (Aquino 53), Vela, Lozano, Hernandez.
USA -- Guzan, Yedlin, Gonzalez, Cameron, Ream, Beasley, Acosta, Bradley, Arriola (Nagbe 64), Wood (Altidore 79), Pulisic (Zusi 90+2).
Yellow Card: USA -- Yedlin 44, Arriola 56.
Referee: Joel Aguilar (El Salvador).