Three thoughts on U.S.-Mexico
PASADENA, Calif. -- Three thoughts after the U.S.'s 4-2 loss against Mexico in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final:
The Mexican mentality was gigantic. If any questions remained about Mexico's resilience in the face of adversity, El Tri answered them in the most emphatic way possible by coming back from an early 2-0 deficit that would have completely thrown many previous Mexican teams off their game. The key moment in the final ended up being Steve Cherundolo's sprained left ankle, which forced the U.S. to rejigger its lineup in the 12th minute, bringing on Jonathan Bornstein at left back and moving Eric Lichaj from the left side to the right. Bornstein was beaten time and again by a wave of Mexican attackers led by Pablo Barrera and Giovani dos Santos, and the Mexicans quickly regained their confidence to equalize by halftime and pull away in the second. All credit to the Mexican players and coach Chepo de la Torre for not panicking after going down 2-0 against their archrivals.
The U.S. paid a price for playing a wide-open game. You never want to go into the prevent defense in the first half, even when you're up 2-0, but I'm surprised that U.S. coach Bob Bradley didn't have his team play a bit more conservatively after building a two-goal advantage. There was space to be exploited in the U.S. defense, and the Mexicans did so with ruthless efficiency, barreling down the left flank and using their speed and technical skills to put the U.S. on its heels. The first half -- with wild swings, four goals and three subs --was the craziest half I have ever seen in the U.S.-Mexico rivalry. But Mexico made all the right plays in the second half, none more stunning than Dos Santos's game-clincher, in which he dribbled away from a scrambling Tim Howard and curled a gorgeous strike into the upper-90. Howard, for his part, was unable to make the game-changing saves that might have turned the tide.
Great U.S. start, and then it fell apart. For a team that often starts poorly and comes back with the help of smart tactical changes, the U.S. endured the opposite situation against Mexico. Two U.S. goals in the first 23 minutes brought back memories of the Confederations Cup final against Brazil. Unfortunately for the U.S., so did Mexico's comeback win. Bradley's subs just didn't work out. Did he have other options on his change for Cherundolo? Yes, he did. He could have brought on Jonathan Spector in a man-for-man switch on the right, or he could have brought on Tim Ream or Maurice Edu at centerback and moved Carlos Bocanegra to the left. People tend to forget that Bornstein played rather well during the World Cup, but this was also his first appearance of this tournament. It might well be his last for a while in a U.S. uniform, too.