U.S. marvels at Mexico
By Michael Lewis

 

PASADENA, California -- After being beaten convincingly, the United States gave credit where it was due -- to Mexico.

Despite the United States grabbing a two-goal lead within 23 minutes before sellout, partisan Mexican crowd, El Tri rallied with a pair of goals before halftime and finished it with another two in the second half.

"They're as dynamic as any [Mexican] team that I've ever played against," U.S. forward Landon Donovan said. "They've got a few guys who can change the game in a heartbeat.

Between [Andres] Guardado, [Pablo] Barrera and Giovani [dos Santos] and Chicharito [Javier Hernandez], they can make special plays. They're explosive. If you give them a lot of space, they're going to make plays, especially on a big field like this. It certainly played to their advantage."

In a back-and-forth game, the Mexicans persistently stretched the U.S. defense, often making the Americans look slow.

"It was an overall frustrating night," captain and central defender Carlos Bocanegra said. "Defensively we weren't good enough."

What made it more frustrating was the Americans led 2-0 on scores by Michael Bradley and Donovan.

"Ideally at that time you want to get to halftime at the minimum of 2-0," Donovan said.

But Barrera scored the first of his two goals in the 29th minute and Guardado added the equalizer seven minutes later.

"When you let it get away, it's an empty feeling," U.S. coach Bob Bradley said.

"It's beyond me how they rallied back from that because we hit them, we counter-punched and they staggered us for a counter punch," goalkeeper Tim Howard said.

Dos Santos, the man of the match, had something to do with that. It seemed that he had the ball on every important play.

"He does a great job," Howard said. "He pulls wide. He isolates you and then he comes inside. It's hard to get tight on him. When you do, he does his magic. So, they've got more than just dos Santos doing it to you.

"They did a good job of passing. They did a god job of hitting us over the top. Sometimes you think of Mexico of one-two and touch-touch. They opened us up and they played us over the top."

With Mexico having outscored its opponents 18-2 in five previous matches, the United States was leery of repeating where others had failed.

"Every team in the tournament just sat back and waited on them and they just picked them apart," Howard said. "We didn't want to do that. Part of going for the third goal was being aggressive."

Dos Santos sealed the victory in the 76th minute. Howard came out of the net to challenge dos Santos in the right corner of the penalty area. He dived at the feet of the Tottenham forward, who twisted away, turned and lofted a shot into the far left corner of the goal as defender Eric Lichaj leaped in vain to stop the shot.

No one realized at the moment, but the game started to turn in the 11th minute, when the U.S. lost right fullback Steve Cherundolo to a sprained left ankle.

Jonathan Bornstein entered at left fullback and starting left back Eric Lichaj moved over to the right side. It did not take the Mexicans long to figure out the weakness as they attacked down the right flank for most of the rest of the game.

All of their goals originated or were scored from the right side.

The Americans, who had allowed only two goals in the tournament, had their 353-minute scoreless streak snapped on Barrera's first goal.

"Certainly the injury to Stevie hurt," Donovan said. "He's been a big part of this team. That back four had done really well for the last three games, hadn't given up a goal. It not only affected us from a soccer standpoint, but from a leadership and morale standpoint. It's unfortunate."