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Mexico 2, USMNT 1: The SBI Breakdown

Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Trevor Ruszkowski/USA TODAY Sports

With just moments remaining, the U.S. Men’s National Team appeared to be home free. After an abomination of a first half, the second half saw the U.S. seemingly seal a point via a Bobby Wood equalizer. Dos a Cero wasn’t in the cards, but it looked like the U.S. had at least locked up a solid start to the Hex.

It all fell apart late due to a Rafael Marquez header, one which sealed a historic 2-1 victory for Mexico. To Mexico’s credit it was a goal and a win deserved, as El Tri snapped the USMNT’s Dos a Cero streak in World Cup qualifying. The U.S., on the other side, was lucky to even be in the match following several early scares, even if an improved second half saw them firmly in the match late.

There’s plenty of blame to go around. From the onset, the U.S. wasn’t in a position to succeed and, even with the tactical missteps, the players on the field lacked the effort and energy needed for a rivalry match.

With that said, here’s a look at several takeaways from Friday’s match:


Throughout his USMNT tenure, Jurgen Klinsmann has made a habit of tinkering and experimenting with various lineups. On Friday, Klinsmann’s tactical changes doomed the USMNT from the jump.

After months rotating between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2, Klinsmann deployed a three-at-the-back set on Sunday. On paper, it looked to be a system that was expected to disrupt Mexico’s own nuances tactical approach. In practice, though, it only served as a disruption to any sort of confidence or momentum the USMNT carried into the match.

From the opening seconds, the U.S. looked flustered. Players seemed confused with aspects as basic as spacing and defensive marking, allowing Mexico to drive at the backline time after time. The attack was listless, the defense was boneheaded and the U.S., as a whole, was a unit devoid of any idea what to do.

Midway through the first half, with the U.S. already down a goal, a change was made. From there, the USMNT was certainly the aggressor, dominating stretches while creating several chances to take the lead late in the game.

It never came, and it was unfortunate, but it’s hard not to look past what was a terrible start to the game. Klinsmann deserves credit for making the early switch, but the initial decision to tinker left the USMNT in a deep hole before they even knew what hit them.


Timmy Chandler has oft been criticized for his national team performances. No matter how well he performs on the club level, Chandler always seems to take a back while with the USMNT.

Friday appeared no different, as Chandler failed to impress early. However, the fullback bounced back a bit later in the game once he was actually placed into a familiar role.

To Chandler’s credit, he was miscast early. In the USMNT’s formation, Chandler played as a wingback from the opening whistle. From there, he struggled to get forward as he failed to ever really get on the ball. Throughout the first half, the Eintracht Frankfurt fullback was pinned in his own half, and certainly deserved some of the blame on Mexico’s opening goal. Chandler’s inability to make any sort of impact in the attack was part of what doomed the three-at-the-back set.

After the switch, Chandler was more effective, getting forward while appearing much steadier on the defensive end. Still, when all was said and done, Chandler fired just seven passes all night, completing only four. Even for a fullback, that’s inexcusable.

His national team future remains to be seen. With DeAndre Yedlin returning to form, Chandler may not get the same chance, even if he likely deserves one more look.


Jozy Altidore’s partnership with Bobby Wood remains a work-in-progress, but there were certainly steps taken on Friday night.

Throughout the match, the two showed flashes. The partnership has been slightly up-and-down throughout the past year or so, but Friday showed exactly what the pair can bring: quick, decisive moments of brilliance.

Both Altidore and Wood were held dormant for large chunks of Friday’s match, but the two combined for what was, at the time, a vital moment. The U.S. emerged strong following the halftime restart, and a spectacular turn from Altidore sprung the USMNT’s best attack. Wood was on the receiving end of an Altidore pass, and the Hamburg forward made no mistake with the finish.

The two had several moments in the aftermath. Both Wood and Altidore tested the Mexico backline down the stretch, although neither could find the finish needed to seal a win. Better days appear to be ahead, but there should be little doubt over the two’s statuses going forward.


There’s reason to be upset. The Dos a Cero streak is over and the Hexagonal is off to a negative start. Once again, the USMNT cracked under pressure when facing a top-level team. However, there’s no reason to panic just yet.

The USMNT could have certainly had a better start. Three points would have been ideal. Even one would have been nice. Starting with a big fat zero is rough, especially with Costa Rica looming.

At the end of the day, Mexico wanted, and needed it, more. You could see the elation from the El Tri squad after the final whistle, as the players gathered to celebrate what must have felt like a win years in the making. The U.S. got off to a rough start, sure, but Mexico needed Friday night to clear a major mental hurdle.

Still, the U.S. should be okay. The Hexagonal is essentially built for the USMNT to overcome these sort of results. At the end of the day, Friday was a speed bump, but one that should certainly be overcome by a team still favored to thrive on the road to Russia.

Friday’s loss is a bit of a confidence-killer, a frustrating loss for a team that appeared to be on a high. However, the U.S. has a chance to bounce back on Tuesday night against Costa Rica as they continue what is a very forgiving Hexagonal process.


  1. I have been a big proponent of the 3-5-2, because we have a surplus of CB and no LB. Especially against a possession oriented team like Mexico this formation can be supremely effective. Italy has used it to teach the world how to beat Spain’s Tiki Taka. The problem was/is that Gonzo and Besler are not Chiellini and Bonucci. Without Cameron, I think the formation suffered. Also, Chandler and Fabian don’t fully understand the wingback role. They forgot/didn’t know that they need to drop back on defense, and stay there until you have built into the midfield… But all credit to Mexico. Upon finding out we went 3 in the back… they pressed high with 3 FW, daring us to win by playing direct and we were unable to do so. If you go 3 in the back, then the ball can’t move through your midfield like butter and our midfield absolutely couldn’t get stuck in and win the ball back in the midfield. I mean put that blame where you will, but we have 1 extra man in MF and for the first 30 minutes MX successfully bypassed our midfield with a single pass… constantly. That’s not on JK, that is on the MF. And I think part of it is that FJ and Chandler were constantly worried about how far back they were going to have to run… so they didn’t cover the LB/RB of Mexico… AND also, CP was playing CF. We essentially had 3-4-3 and MX had 3-4-3 when you look at how the game was playing. Mexico won the tactical battle on the day and its because their AM are/is more flexible than ours.

    Apparently, despite our surplus of CB they don’t have the ability to cover enough ground and apparently our MF is not able to press well enough. I didn’t think those things would be a problem and I think JK was a little suprised too. All credit for getting out of it when given an opportunity.

    Finally, given the failure of the 3-5-2 because of our LCB and RCB and MF, I have to believe we go 4 in the back and leave tactical flexibility to the FW and MF from here on out. But I think this is an issue long term if we are going to be able to play successfully against teams like Spain and Argentina that are happy to possess and relax for 90 minutes. We need to be able to flood the MF successfully and we seem to be unable to do so.

    Final sub Oroszco was the thing I criticize JK for most about this game. That was absolutely the wrong decision. In that situation either I add in Julian Green or Lynden Gooch and I take out Jermaine/Besler and you tell FJ to either help Besler or play LB and have Jermaine stationed there to help FJ. We had 100% momentum and we needed a new engine to run the MF.

    I think we beat CR.

  2. I know it might not be a popular opinion – but it bears noting that USMNT performances have become more inconsistent since our top players have come back to MLS.
    I understand why they return, the ability to live close to home and earning better salaries than they would in Europe. However – the ability to stay sharp without the constant high pressure grind of European football is difficult. We have seen time and again the sub-par performances in big, national team games (2015 CONCACAF Cup, 2015 Gold Cup semifinal, 2016 Copa America semifinal, and the last WC qualifier)
    The return of high-profile National team players good for MLS and the players themselves, but its hurting the national team.

  3. The best player is not always the best fit for a particular position.

    If you are going to tinker with formations especially a 3-5-2, with a 3 player backline, why don’t you find teams / players that have had success playing in that position / formation.

    Bradley didn’t play well (I get it) and need to shoulder a lot of the blame but it his role in the formation (That klinsmann gave him) that lead to his failure. In TFC he plays in their 5 man midfield as a CM, not as a DM.

    Like tuning a car….it can be tuned for straight line or autocross (handling). Just because you are the best tuner /builder for drag racing, doesn’t mean you are the best for autocross tuning. Klinsmann doesn’t sem to understand player / formation combinations.

    Why don’t we learn from our female counterparts. The USWNT are always dominant because their coaches keep on playing the best player for key position / formations, not just the best big name Stars in general ….whether its Stanford or NWSL or abroad it doesn’t matter.

    Mexico used the same formation, flat five midfield ,that TFC uses to torch teams day in day out in MLS, and anytime they use it they win (surprise, surprise)
    The 3-5-2 didn’t let us down, its Bradley’s role in the 3-5-2 (sitting in a more defensive role), the 3 backs selected to do the job and the lack of understanding and training that did

    • The other glaring individual weakness in the formation was Omar at RCB. He is simply not mobile enough to play that position. I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t go with a Birnbaum or Orozco there if you’re going to go with a three-man back line.

      • exactly…….and Omar’s passing out of the back continues to be hoofing the ball up the field to no one, wtf?! I get that Jurgen may have started him because of experience and his ties to Liga MX but it went terribly wrong because not maintaining possession while playing a 3 man back line is a recipe for disaster.

  4. The lack of critique of Michael Bradley from SBI is becoming pretty irresponsible. He has been one of the worst players on the field for almost 2 years now and never seems to take any criticism. Always glossed over.

    • Amen to that. I don’t know how many times I wondered who he was passing it to as the ball sailed out of bounds or to the other team. The only positive in his performance that I can remember was his pressing in the second half that created some turnovers and counter opportunities.

    • Yup. If going to call out anyone it’s 1. MB 2. Omar Gonzalez – just bad all around game 3. The unfortunate injury to Tim Howard 4. Orozco’ breif appearance was a flat zero. If Marquez’ header was any less perfect Hernandez was past Orozco on the back post ready to tap that in.
      Good: Jones still a force, Pulisic & Wood future of this team, Brooks was right at home marking vs Hernandez the whole 90, Jozy showed a lot of heart and Fabian was ineffective but looked good in the attack as well as getting back to defensive duties.

      Last point from sbi is good. We need to average something like 2 point/game here out. 12 more home points available. Big setback but far from panic time.

    • I think people are not recognizing that MB is basically out there alone postionally. JJ is the one running around like a headless chicken.

      I will cheer as loud as the next person when Jones blasts his way through a Mexican midfielder on the way to the ball, but he is a flurry of chaos at times that Bradley is working hard to cover for. Go back and rewatch that game, you will see Jones out of position time and time again because he is off chasing the ball leaving Bradley exposed.

      • Bradley is the one who is supposed to support the back line, which gives JJ more license to roam and i think that is the US’ plan. How many times did we see JJ break up potential attacks with slide tackles or with great hustle to break up a play from behind, it was several. I don’t think anyone is saying Bradley didn’t hustle, because he did, he always does, but the repetitive turnovers and not influencing the game the way he was intended is a thing now. He has to break up that play that led to Layuns’ goal, but he didn’t and again it reminded me of the turnover he had vs Portugal which deflated the team in the final moments of the game. In this instance we were lucky that it happened early enough to get back into it albeit we still lost in the final minutes. Point being, we need our best players, our captain, playing above everyone else in these types of games and for a couple of years now Bradley hasn’t been that guy!

  5. Dropping any points at home during the hex is very worrisome.

    I haven’t read any commentary on that absolutely ridiculous chop block on CP just outside the box. The defender planked his body in front a him. That was nuts, never seen that.

    • I think it surprised the ref so much he didn’t think of anything but yellow. I couldn’t find a replay, but it seems to me leaving your feet and driving your shoulders into an opponents legs seems like a serious foul.

  6. Cameron would have made a big difference instead of Omar but still the CM’s I think are the weak links. With Jozy and Wood u got to decent strikers, CP and FJ if he plays on the wing are legit wingers and find a left back other than FJ and the back line is fairly strong

  7. Of all the topics to pick Chandler was not a problem. Aside from the formation in the first 20-30 minutes, Omar was like a dribbling cone and I’m not sure he completed one pass, MB hasn’t done anything positive which is becoming a habit, and we must have the worst set pieces in a long time. Jones as usual got stronger as the game went on, but when Besler had to come off Fabian should have been moved to LB and a fresh midfielder should have been added to support them since we had to blow a sub on Howard.
    Mexico picked one side to overload numbers and they chose right by going after Chandlers side with Omar behind him instead of Fabjo and Besler, but Chandler was not the problem.. And Yedlin did nothing when he came in.

    • I think most of the guys played well with some moments here and there. It probably boils down to what your long term feelings are about a certain player. Bradley looked like a chicken with his head cut off in the 3-5-2 but I thought settled in, missed the big pass to Wood though which is what most will remember. I’m not sure moving FJ to LB on tired legs against Lozano would have been good either and he was at the time get forward well if I remember. I thought the bigger switch when Orozco came on was to relax the pressing so which conceded Mexico the pressure. I think that was a bigger error than the sub. You could have subbed Green on to help keep the pressure up top but perhaps Jozy, Bobby, CP had tired too much at that point after expending a lot of energy in the 2nd half.


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