USA-Mexico: A learning experience, suggesting El Tri is a lot more than 'slightly ahead'

If you were Sergino Dest and you sat in your hotel room Friday afternoon and watched the Netherlands beat Germany, 4-2, in Euro 2020 qualifying with a starting right back you're already competing equally with at Ajax and then you had to endure a drubbing at the hands of Mexico in your senior U.S. debut, which team might you be leaning to commit your international future to?

That's a sobering thought on a night when there was little positive to say about Mexico's 3-0 victory over the USA before a pro-Mexico crowd of 47,960 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey.

U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter tried.

“You guys are going to think I’m crazy," he said after the game. "I’m happier about this game than the Gold Cup final." He was referring to the final two months earlier when Mexico beat the USA, 1-0.  “We’re making progress," he added, acknowledging that was not going to be the narrative in the media.

No it wasn't.

The USA was variously "humiliated" (Yahoo Sports), "overwhelmed" (ESPN) and "outclassed" (Washington Post).

Different not necessarily better. Berhalter's point was the USA at least tried to play the ball out of the back instead of resorting to playing long balls over the top. A laudatory experiment but one that seemed doomed.

Goalkeeper Zack Steffen had his worst game in a U.S. uniform, and with John Brooks a late scratch, neither center back, Aaron Long nor Walker Zimmerman, looked comfortable on the ball. With the exception of Dest, the defense repeatedly looked incapable of playing its way out of a proverbial paper bag.

Berhalter said he wanted a "different performance" from his players than the one he saw in the Gold Cup final -- "Today I saw guys that at least continually wanted to try to keep playing," he said -- but it wasn't necessarily better. The play out of the back often looked forced and stilted, rarely confident. And like in Chicago in July, coordination on both sides of the ball faded under pressure from the Mexicans.

Playing with fear. Christian Pulisic started out confidently but his frustration grew as the match went along. When it came time for the USA to take a penalty kick in the 88th minute with the score 3-0, Pulisic handed the ball to 19-year-old Josh Sargent, who fired the ball right at the diving Jonathan Orozco, who guessed correctly and saved the attempt.

Almost two years into the youth movement that followed its elimination from the 2018 World Cup, the USA again lacked poise without veterans Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore in the lineup. Both played in the Gold Cup but were unavailable because of commitments with Toronto FC, which has MLS games scheduled for Saturday and Wednesday. (One of the lessons of 2019 has to be that MLS has to once and for all shut down during FIFA windows -- for its sake and the sake of the national team, no exceptions.)

"We still play with fear against them," said Pulisic, "and that is what I can't really live with. That needs to change."

Fear wasn't the issue with Dest in his debut at the age of 18. He started out confidently enough on the ball and drove forward, hitting the USA's best chance until the game was out of reach. But he was megged by Tecatito Corona on the play that led to the first goal in the 21st minute and largely disappeared from the attack after that.

In the 68th minute, Berhalter pulled Dest, probably seeing that Chucky Lozano was about to come on for Corona. (A wise move as it turned out.) The U.S. coach praised his 18-year-old left back, saying he played like an older player.

“Did he make some mistakes? Yeah, of course,” Berhalter said. “But I can’t be more proud of a guy who goes out and tries to do things."

Berhalter knows the USA-Mexico rivalry well, having played against El Tri four times, including the memorable 2-0 win in the 2002 World Cup. In his second USA-Mexico game as coach, he downplayed the revenge aspect, preferring to look at the game as a learning experience, an opportunity to see what the adjustments that could be made, and admitting that based on the Gold Cup Mexico was "slightly ahead" of the USA.

Friday's game was certainly a learning experience, suggesting that Mexico is a lot more than "slightly ahead" of the USA.

Photo: Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire

32 comments about "USA-Mexico: A learning experience, suggesting El Tri is a lot more than 'slightly ahead'".
  1. Kent James, September 7, 2019 at 9:17 a.m.

    When you're goalkeeper is touching the ball more when your team is in possession than your center forward, you need to change something.  I get the idea of playing out of the back, but it is the responsibiity of the offense to find the weaknesses in the defense, not pretend they don't exist.  Maybe a better team can dictate play regardless, but I think you have to recognize that when Mexico is pressing high with 7 players, and you're actualy able to string together 5 or 6 passes and still no one is open, the openings are up top, not in the back.  I think we overcommitted to that pattern of play for much too long (we did start to play a few longer balls out of the back in the 2nd half).  Steffen had a bad game, but mostly when he had the ball at his feet, which is usually not a goalkeeper's strength (since if it were, they'd probably be out in the field....).  How many times did he get the ball while being pressured, and just kick it down field.

    That being said, I do think the 3-0 scoreline is a bit flattering to Mexico.  Yes, they deserved to win, but they were not 3 goals better.  They made a horrendous error (weak header back) that we had a good chance to turn into a goal (which they prevented by holding Pulisic), we hit the post and had a PK saved.  By the time of the 2nd goal, Steffen had not made a save (and their keeper had made 2).  So I don't buy the argument that they're in a different class than we are.  These are always competitive games that either team can win.  And it always being a home game for Mexico probably doesn't help...

  2. frank schoon replied, September 7, 2019 at 3:49 p.m.

    Kent, 3-0 is flattering?. It could have been 6-0 with a little luck. But be that as it may, don't look at the  the goals as a metric but how the players of Mexico perform and play. Our team is nothing but a bunch of ball watchers on defense, all over the field....a trait you see by 14year olds. 

  3. Kent James replied, September 7, 2019 at 5:34 p.m.

    Frank, they had three good goalscoring chances they blew (kind of similar to the way we blew such chances in the Gold Cup), so yes, 6-0 was also possible.  On the other hand, 3-2 US is possible. I'm not saying Mexico wasn't better than us on the night, but it's not like they are so good we are incapable of beating them. 

  4. Paul Cuadros, September 7, 2019 at 9:25 a.m.

    I think the key take away is what Pulisic said about fear. You can't go out there with fear against the Tri. The rivalry, the game, the fans, the pressure it's all there to make you or break you and last night they broke. Errors, missed chances, lack of coordination. But there were some good things too. It's a new generation and it needs to get its bearings. That said, the transition from old to new for MEX has been more steady with more success. We're no where near anything in S. America or Europe but let's compare in CONCACAF only and we're getting there. I think looking back we have to seriously consider that our method of pay to play in the youth division is never going to pay off for the future of real development and play in the U.S. We limit our ourselves and talent with this system. The recent all or nothing of the academies are proof of this. It's been 10 years of boys academies and this is what we have developed. We need a more egalitarian open system for development in the U.S. MEX is stymied by its own developmental programs in youth with corruption, little to no advancement to Europe encouraged, but it does allow for more of its talented youth to find a way up. The culture of football saves them. We don't have that here and so we must foster it--not bottle it up with fees and travel costs.

  5. R2 Dad replied, September 9, 2019 at 12:24 p.m.

    I would like to believe you about a new generation getting its bearings, but there is a basic mismatch between the MLS stiffs who play too slowly/run a lot, and the internationals who are sharper, have a better soccer IQ and think quicker on AND off the ball.
    Now, with McKinnie and Addams as double pivots in a 4-2-3-1 at least we give ourselves a chance to get the ball out of the back, on the ground. But the whole GB strategy then relies on those Dmids lumping vertical balls, which is just lame. Once you have possession at midfield, we should be building pressure and learning to crack defenses.
    Well, this is what you get with an ex-defender who is an MLS coach. My question is who/how many at USSF get fired when GB goes?

  6. frank schoon replied, September 10, 2019 at 9:41 a.m.

    R2, McKinnie and Adams are not the right people to get the ball out of the back. There is no intelligence with either player as far as ball distribution go. They would only make it worse out there if they need to get the ball up to the front line. These 2 players represents everything that we want to see ,or not want to see, depending how want to see the US play, in the run and fight department....Both fit well in the German style of play.
    I do give both credit if we need to defend and help out defensively the back line but as far constructive ball possession and intelligent ball distribution going forwards, sorry, I have little faith in them....As a matter of fact, those 2 would cause the backline to pump more long balls to the front line ,not less.

  7. Seth Vieux replied, September 10, 2019 at 1:05 p.m.

    Frank I agree with you on McKennie for sure, but want to see more out of Adams before passing judgment. His ability as a ball winning CM and defensive disruptor is the best I think I've ever seen in the USMNT pool already and I've seen indications he's better on the ball than most of the DCMs we've had over the years. I think I like him quite a lot as one of 2 DCMs in 4-2-3-1, but agree with you for sure if we're talking 4-3-3 or the like. My opinion is that GB is hel bent on playing his one off system and despite his complete inability (IMO) to assess qualities of attacking players, he's smart enough to see that Adams likely could not be trusted as the 6 in his system which is why he wanted him at the hybrid RB where when he's in that DCM role it's while we're already in possession and it also puts him in postition to put his greatest strength (quickly winning the ball back in the middle of the field) to good use. I've said this before and will continue to believe it until GB proves his system is worth a nickel - his system stinks in the first place and probably couldn't hope for a worse player pool to put it into play. 

    Back on Adams, if GB were to relent to play 4-2-3-1 I think he'd be successful in there and allow GB to play a less dynamic and sturdy defender, like Bradley or Trapp along side him. I'll emhatically state that I don't think either of those two guys are the answer going forward, but think you'd be more likely to see Trapp with some success if he were along side Adams in 4-2-3-1 than in GB's system where he's basically not good enough in any dimension to do what's asked of that spot at the international level. Unfortunately I'm not even sure there's a U-20 player waitin in the wings that looks like the answer going forward either :-(

  8. frank schoon replied, September 10, 2019 at 2:12 p.m.

    Seth, this is the problem I see playing a 4-2-3-1 using Adams and McKinnie in front of defensive line. First of all, these 2 players are very much alike in their play and I don't know what the one adds to the other, in other words they need to specifically compliment each other. And that is where I have my doubts .  It is not like one is a MB type and the other is the Adams type where you can see the difference in the ability and therefore their role. Understand , this is how I see it on paper , how it plays out depends on who plays in front of the two as well as the strategy you want to employ, specifically defense. 
    I can see both used, let us say, if we we're up by 2goals and we need to hold the lead with 15min. to go, making sure we can stop the opponents defensively, no problem; although it  would cost us some offense thrust.
    Here is the other problem(s) I see with these two types, which is also generic ,in a sense, when you  play 2 in front of the defense.. One, it blocks any forward movement by the centerbacks to go on attack or move forwards to midfield (which we don't do ,anyway), two, as an addition it also invites more opponents thereby making like it very busy in the middle. And thereby, the ball will likely go often to the flanks. Ofcourse that can have implications for buildup because the backs will likely be used. Using the backs for the build up is wrong ,they should only be used on attack, because the initial pass out of the backfield to the back forces the other side flank to be out of the game, in other words 7v10. And worse, the shift of the opponnents to where the build up begins will stop the offensive threat down that flank NEXT POST

  9. frank schoon replied, September 10, 2019 at 2:19 p.m.

    Adams to me is "breaker" a water carrier, he stops the play and passes the ball off, a la Edgar Davids, in a way. That's his strength, that's what he's good at ,or can become better at. Also I would like to see him learn to increase the tempo of play at midfield by not passing always to the feet but instead ahead of the receiver, which he needs to learn, but I dont' think that's going to happen. 
    You mention as a #6 ,that's way out of his leaque. He needs to play a simple game, an enforcer, stopping and given the ball to better players....

  10. Gary Zelazny, September 7, 2019 at 9:37 a.m.

    USA has complete lack of technical skills to play the style that the coach desires. What a dismal showing. No room for optimism!

  11. John Soares, September 7, 2019 at 11:19 a.m.

    ...and yet some complain when the Women (WNT) play; IF ONLY.

  12. Georgie Best, September 7, 2019 at 12:18 p.m.

    Greg Berhalter was the only one being outclassed last night.
    How many times do we have to see Zardes be completely useless before he starts someone else. Even if the defense is capable of playing out of the back,   no one in midfield ( besides Pulisic ) or up front can actually hold a ball and make a pass. Passing the ball all the way back to your defense doesn't really count. The best shot of the night was from Dest.   it looked like  the fowards went out of their way NOT to shoot, passing the ball back instead of taking opportunities to shoot from just outside the box.  
    WC qualifying starts in a year we're not even close.
    Berhalther keeps trying to fit square pegs into round holes. We need a coach with top flight and world cup coaching experience. 
    US soccer  needs to make a move now, not after we lose the first 3 qualifying games.

  13. Bob Ashpole replied, September 8, 2019 at 10:26 p.m.

    I have to admit that I was thinking the same thing, but USSF doesn't want a great coach. Great coaches might not want to listen to the instructions from the non-coaches in Chicago. Great coaches might want to change things. USSF doesn't want that. They want a "safe" coach who will do as told.

  14. Wooden Ships replied, September 9, 2019 at 11:12 a.m.

    Bob, that’s what Hugo discovered.

  15. Georgie Best, September 7, 2019 at 12:18 p.m.

    Greg Berhalter was the only one being outclassed last night.
    How many times do we have to see Zardes be completely useless before he starts someone else. Even if the defense is capable of playing out of the back,   no one in midfield ( besides Pulisic ) or up front can actually hold a ball and make a pass. Passing the ball all the way back to your defense doesn't really count. The best shot of the night was from Dest.   it looked like  the fowards went out of their way NOT to shoot, passing the ball back instead of taking opportunities to shoot from just outside the box.  
    WC qualifying starts in a year we're not even close.
    Berhalther keeps trying to fit square pegs into round holes. We need a coach with top flight and world cup coaching experience. 
    US soccer  needs to make a move now, not after we lose the first 3 qualifying games.

  16. humble 1, September 8, 2019 at 2:05 p.m.

    Speaks volumes that it took a year to choose the USSF's second in charges brother, meanwhile, the Tata, a world class club and national team coach, comes in helps build Atlanta United to a MLS Cup winning side with stadium pushing 70,000 fans, and he is not invited to interview for the US job, and ends up in Mexico.  Compare the CVs of Berhalter to Martino - not in same class.  Remember that coach Klinsman was (still) making $2.5 mil / yr and J.C. Osario of Mexico about $1 mil during Russia 2018.  Martino was making < $1 mil at Altanta and was probably hoping to position himself for the well paying US job.  Spited, he goes to Mexico and no matter what he says to the press, it is no surprise at all he is looking to ask some questions of the USA when he puts his team out.  

  17. Dennis Peterson, September 8, 2019 at 3:49 p.m.

    We aren't outplayed...we are outcoached...again!!

  18. frank schoon replied, September 8, 2019 at 4:01 p.m.

    Dennis ,Outcoached? if it was ,it isn't difficult to do......We can take the coaches away from both teams and I'm willing to bet the Mexicans still play better ball....

  19. Nick Gabris, September 9, 2019 at 12:02 p.m.

    Zardes adds nothing to the team! Need Tab Ramos or Jurgen Klinsman back, at least they have the international experience and results needed to coach a national team. GB is way out of his league.

  20. Bob Ashpole replied, September 9, 2019 at 1:17 p.m.

    Zardes at CF is the symptom, not the problem. The problem is a view of the game that requires a big strong target at CF instead of a goal scorer.

    A target is one way to play, but basically a target forward is a crutch to use when your team isn't skilled enough to break lines by combination passing and dribbling.

  21. frank schoon replied, September 9, 2019 at 1:48 p.m.

    Nick, you're right about the coaches selection...Yes, I prefer Ramos of GB but Ramos is not the answer we need to get someone who has played at a high level with much more experience like a Klinsman(But not a German, Please!). 

  22. Seth Vieux replied, September 9, 2019 at 6:01 p.m.

    While I'd certainly have preferred Ramos to Berhalter, we should certainly expect more as a nation. Frank what do you think the odds of DeBoer taking the job would be after we EVENTUALLY give up on GB? And while we're at it, let's get the Atlanta United head shed into USSF as they clearly have a far better understanding of how to select coaches than any other group in the US.

  23. Nick Gabris, September 9, 2019 at 2:32 p.m.

    Frank! your not meaning to discriminate, are you? :) How about Arsene Wenger, he is available?

  24. frank schoon replied, September 9, 2019 at 2:40 p.m.

    Wenger ,fine with me, but he's a club coach, I wonder if he wants to coach a national team, totally different, considering his age and everything. No disrespect to German coaches but American players need another style of coaching of thinking about the game. The Americans have too much German/English DNA in their soccer...they need to get away from that... :)

  25. frank schoon replied, September 9, 2019 at 2:41 p.m.

    Nick, BTW, GB played also and learned his game in Germany

  26. Philip Carragher, September 9, 2019 at 2:58 p.m.

    How is US Soccer setup in terms of the NT coach dictating how the US will train youth soccer players? Would a great coaching choice necessarily lead to a strong youth development program?

  27. frank schoon replied, September 9, 2019 at 3:40 p.m.

    Philip, A new coach could instill a new way of looking at the game which can also influence the way we train. Just look at how every youth team plays with their backline for example...they all follow the same pattern and train similarly...Welll ,a new coach could influence that pattern ....

  28. Nick Gabris, September 9, 2019 at 3 p.m.

    Agree on the DNA! That was my reason for T. Ramos, he has been doing a terrific job with the U-20's and he does not discriminate as far as selection of his players, his play was a south american type of flair, play, as well. Maybe that's where we need to look. Example, SJ Earthquakes this year with their new SA coach!

  29. frank schoon replied, September 9, 2019 at 3:45 p.m.

    I like Tab, but I want someone with a more higher level experience ....Tata  would have been better, besides Tab has not had the high level experience backround. Yes, he played in Spain for a year or so, and played on the NT back in the days when most players were college backround....
    Klinsman was fine as far as experience but he's not want I'm looking for....

  30. Bob Ashpole replied, September 9, 2019 at 10:26 p.m.

    I understand your concern, Frank. As long as the USSF board and CEO want to run the program and dictate how the team plays, I don't think we can get anyone that fits the description to take the job. If they did, I don't think they could make any changes either.

    Remember the "reorganization" after the election stripped the head coaches of all automomy and made them subject to the control of a management committee. That takes effect on the women's side as soon as Ellis leaves.

  31. frank schoon replied, September 10, 2019 at 9:58 a.m.

    Bob, i've given up on the USSF and Earney Stewart, this guy obvious played the political game. To mandate the NT coach must speak English is a joke. Just like all coaches have to domicile in Chicago...
     Hire TATA and and there are plenty of  assistant coaches, (Ramos, Hugo, etc)  who can speak English/spanish. And besides how much at this level do players need to have explanained. This whole process is an insult to my intelligence. To believe that GB is the best choice....especially one who specifically has German backround in soccer. They could have gotten a South American, or European from the continent(No English) to come in. 
    Stewart , I don't think ever thought about the direction of style the US  needs to go into when you take into account we have so much German DNA in our style of play...I guess he wanted to continue in that light , get a coach with a backround of German style of play and able to speak German ...welcome GB

  32. Seth Vieux, September 9, 2019 at 6:13 p.m.

    Honestly there could be any number of coaches that have proven capable of punching above their club's weight in Europe or South America that would be far preferable to Berhalter. 

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